Wednesday, November 15, 2000
Steamboat Springs The next time local business owners consider making a cash contribution to the winter jet program at Yampa Valley Regional Airport, they can contemplate a 25-percent tax credit along with it.
Government officials and business leaders here announced Thursday they've won approval from the Colorado Economic Development Commission to extend enterprise zone tax credits to the "transportation fund" that helps pay airline guarantees needed to bring commercial jets to the airport near Hayden during ski season.
"Anyone who makes a contribution between now and Dec. 31 can take a 25 percent tax credit on their year 2000 state income tax," Sandy Evans Hall said. She is the executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. The tax credit will not apply retroactively to portions of the $750,000 committed by the local business community that have already been received, Evans Hall said. But she's hopeful the combination of early snow and the tax credit will create optimism in the minds of people who have made pledges but haven't written checks thus far. And the tax credit will be applicable in the future, for example in 2001, when the subject of airline contributions will come up again.
"We have a lot of commitments out there we haven't collected yet. This is a huge benefit" for people looking to improve their year-end tax situation, Evans Hall said.
The $750,000 is going to augment the $1.4 million budgeted by the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. to assure passenger jets will fly into Yampa Valley Regional Airport this winter. The ski corp., which budgeted $1 million last winter, says it can't go any higher than $1.4 million this winter. And even with another $750,000 from the business community, this winter's airline program will bring 11 percent fewer round-trip airline seats into the valley.
Evans Hall was accompanied on a trip to Denver Wednesday by Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord, Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison, Hayden Town Manager Rob Straebel and YVRA manager Jim Parker. They successfully presented the case for including the "Regional Air Service Assistance Program" in the enterprise zone tax incentives to the seven-member Colorado Economic Development Commission.
The proposal was endorsed by Larry McCown, chairman of the five-county Associated Government of Northwest Colorado. The organization represents the interests of Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Garfield and Mesa counties. But the airline tax credit program will extend across Colorado's Western Slope.
Also benefitting from the decision of the board will be airports in Montrose, Telluride, Durango and Gunnison. DuBord said Walker Field in Grand Junction, and Eagle County Airport near Vail, were not part of the proposal.
Ellison said he was able to stress the role of the winter jet program, which essentially brings skiers to the Steamboat Ski Area, in building year-round commercial air service to the five-county region.
"Dan also did a great job yesterday of talking about the jobs at the airport and how they help local people," DuBord said. "He actually named people who worked at the airport and who were ranchers as well."
DuBord said the commissioners were impressed to learn that the airport was providing income to ag families. She said she was a little wary going into the meeting because Steamboat Springs, as a ski town, was excluded from inclusion in the state enterprise zone two years ago. But she said even though the businesses that will receive tax credits from the program are primarily located in Steamboat, the fact that the airport is outside the city and the benefits are spread throughout the county made a positive impression on the commissioners. The airline program turned out to be an easy sell, DuBord said.
Ellison said he told the commission that 117 Craig residents work at Yampa Valley Regional Airport and another 101 residents of Hayden are employed there. About 40 Steamboat residents work at the airport during ski season, plus one from Phippsburg and another from Lay, in western Moffat County.
DuBord said Evans Hall was also effective in persuading the commissioners that the broader communities surrounding ski towns on the Western Slope of Colorado are up against airlines' propensity to devote aircraft to business travel routes rather than leisure travel routes. That's because they can realize greater profits that way. The cost of sending jets to smaller markets is often referred to as "opportunity cost" in airline lingo. DuBord said the commissioners had been previously unaware that ski towns must buy down opportunity cost through programs such as Steamboat's transportation fund to bring commercial air service to the region.
Paul Strong, who is both a Steamboat Springs City Councilman and a certified public accountant, confirmed Wednesday that the tax benefits realized by airline program contributors will come in the form of tax credits deducted from the contributing businesses' tax bill rather than as a deduction from income.
"Credits are always better than deductions," Strong said.
If there's any down side, Strong said, it's that some people in Steamboat and Routt County don't want to see the increase in tourism brought about by the jet program.
To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org