Tight budget leads city to look for alternatives

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— Dipping $410,792 into the city's discretionary reserves at Tuesday's budget retreat, City Council members bemoaned the city's lack of revenue to support its needs.
The city relies almost entirely on sales tax revenue to fill its coffers, but that will likely have to change in the near future, council members said.
"We have a problem and our problem is that we have to look towards a permanent source of financing for our city budget," said City Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell.
The 2001 budget was identified as the tightest budget in a number of years by city officials in part because the city is not receiving enough money from sales tax collections. While the tourism industry has helped bring in millions of dollars in sales tax revenue to the city, increased growth in the community has not, in fact, paid for itself.
The city has hired two consultants from Colorado State University to analyze the state of the city's economy. Their preliminary report is likely to come before the City Council by the end of the month.
Harvey Cutler and Stephen Davies were hired about three months ago by the city, the county and the chamber to analyze the status of city and county finances and to make recommendations about how best to manage the future of these two markets.
They have worked on similar projects for cities such as Fort Collins and Loveland, although this will be the first ski resort they have taken on.
The consultants plan to present new figures to the city soon, after which they will begin to run "simulations." These simulations will extrapolate on hypothetical situations to determine their economic impact on the Steamboat community.
Possible simulations include a property tax simulation, in which the effect of a property tax on various residential and commercial properties could be assessed.
The consultants could also assess the effect of different levels of migration on the economy.
The simulations will hopefully allow the city, chamber and county officials to get a sense of what might happen if they did decide to institute policy changes.
New revenue sources can mean everything from impact fees to a property tax depending on whom you talk to, though the city will likely look to a variety of sources to find new revenue.
"The time is coming," said City Council President Kevin Bennett. "I think that by next fall there needs to be the opportunity for voters to respond to a ballot issue that will offer the city the ability to diversify its revenue sources."

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@amigo.net

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