RALF excise tax likely part of council debate

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— A possible excise tax on new construction, as well as the future of city participation in funding tourism marketing are subjects that are likely to come up during a Steamboat Springs City Council work session Tuesday night.
During the 6 p.m. work session, City Clerk Julie Jordan-Struble will detail for City Council the steps it must take if it intends to place a question before the voters this fall. Both the excise tax and marketing are the possible subjects of ballot questions the voters could be asked to pass judgment on Nov. 7.
The city is in receipt of a formal request from the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, that it place a new excise tax on the Nov. 7 ballot. The excise tax, as conceived by RALF, would be applied to new construction only. The tax rate would be keyed to the number of square feet in the building, perhaps $2 to $3 per square foot. But no tax would be imposed on residences below a certain square footage, in order to protect the affordability of smaller homes.
The revenue would be dedicated to purchase land, or to pay debt service on loans for land used for affordable housing.
City councilman Ken Brenner said Monday he expects council to discuss the desirability of placing the excise tax on the ballot during Tuesday night's discussion.
"I don't think there's any question it will be on the table," Brenner said. He added he also expects the council to discuss the city's role in funding marketing. One of the steps that might be considered, Brenner said, is placing an advisory question on the ballot to ask registered voters if they approve or disapprove of the city's current fiscal participation in tourism marketing.
Brenner added that he and City Council President Kevin Bennett are planning to poll other mountain towns about they ways they do, or don't fund marketing during an August meeting of the Colorado Association of Ski Towns in Grand Lake.
Jordan-Struble said Tuesday night's work session is being held to inform council of its options for placing a question of any kind on the ballot. The question of the excise tax won't necessarily be acted upon. However, council could choose to direct her office to begin preparing for a fall ballot question, Jordan-Struble said.
If the city were to act on RALF's recommendation, it would have to place the excise tax question on the ballot by ordinance. That would mean two public hearings at the first and second readings of the ordinance, Jordan-Struble said.
The city of Steamboat Springs does not typically hold elections during odd-numbered years, Jordan-Struble said, but there are several ways it could put a question before the voters. Under the Taxpayers' Bill of rights, any ballot question that would raise or lower taxes must be held in November. The excise tax proposed by RALF fits into that category.
If the city decides it wants to hold an election this year, one form it could take is that of a coordinated election with Routt County. Time is short if that route is to be taken; the city must formally notify the county clerk by July 31 of its intent. That process is straightforward. The city and county already have an intergovernmental agreement in place that would allow them to hold a combined election. City Council need only ratify the agreement in order to notify County Clerk Kay Weinland of its intent.
The city has until Sept. 8 to pass its enabling ordinance and supply ballot titles to Weinland. However, City Council has planned a break from meetings from Aug. 9 through Sept. 11.
"Therefore, we need to ensure that the second reading of any proposed ballot title ordinance occurs on Aug. 8," Jordan-Struble wrote in a memo to City Council.
There are other ways for City Council to place a question on the ballot without combing an election with the county.
If the city wants to hold a November election without participating with the county, it must conduct a mail ballot under state statute, Jordan-Struble said.
Alternatively, the city could call for a special election, if it doesn't need to fit a TABOR question into the November election. There are restrictions on how closely a special election can precede or follow either primary or general elections (there is a primary election Aug. 8).
The times when a special election could be held are from Sept. 11 to Oct. 6, 2000, or after Dec. 11, 2000, Jordan-Struble said.

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

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