Officials take direction from town meeting

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— City Manager Paul Hughes believes City Council can take some clear messages out of the recent town meeting.

"I'd be very surprised next year at this time if we had not made significant progress," on some major issues, Hughes said. "It's pretty clear what areas we need to address."

Hughes said the almost 200 people who attended the start of the meeting June 28 sent a clear message that they want the city to gather more hard data about growth and what impact it's having on the community.

Hughes said the current revenue study being conducted by the Fort Collins consulting firm Cutler and Davies will supply some of the information the public wants. If City Council engages another consultant, Paul Tischler of Tischler and Associates, another piece of the puzzle could be revealed. The city is talking to Tischler about the possibility of completing a "land-use cost-benefit analysis." That study would gather facts about the extent to which different kinds of existing and future development could pay their fair share of impacts to city services.

Hughes said he also heard those attending the meeting say they want to see Steamboat Springs Transit grow and expand its bus routes in the future.

"It's pretty clear people are saying the transit system is no longer an experiment and it's time to make it a real one," Hughes said.

The city manager added that he was surprised by the message he heard from a breakout group he led himself. That group split off to discuss how the city could come up with a mix of taxes, fees and other revenues to best provide services for the city's future. Hughes said the majority of people in that group agreed it was almost a foregone conclusion that the city should look further into the possibility of establishing some amount of property tax to balance out its current dependence on sales tax.

Hughes said the group that lacked the least amount of consensus was the one debating the city's role in funding tourism marketing. That group split along "party lines" over the question of whether to put the city's involvement to an election.

Another breakout group at the town meeting explored the extent to which city government should be involved in promoting affordable housing.

Susan Otis urged the city to take steps to assure that future affordable housing be integrated into neighborhoods with more expensive housing units, rather than set off by itself.

Curt Weiss urged the city to study a system of bonuses rather than punitive regulations, to encourage developers to create more affordable housing.

"There's so much cost in everything we do, based on the different government entities," Weiss said. "Taxes don't work in an economic downturn."

Government could help foster development of affordable housing by revising fees charged for water and sewer hookups, easing the burden of building acceleration and deceleration lanes on the roadways and downsizing landscaping requirements, Weiss said.

Mayling Hebert participated in the breakout group discussing ways for the city to manage the rate of growth, so that its consequences can be understood.

"I'd like to know if we know anything about the carrying capacity of our environment," Hebert asked. She pointed out the capacity of the Yampa River to handle treated sewage effluent from Steamboat could serve as a control on the rate of growth.

City Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell said this week she was mildly frustrated by the failure of the town meeting to produce a lot of specific recommendations for council. But she was impressed by the remarks of Tom Hopp, who urged people to focus on concrete problems that concern them, rather than just saying they are pro-tourism, or anti-growth.

"As long as we're in this big concept realm, we'll never accomplish anything," Connell cautioned.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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