Steamboat Springs Jeff and Jennifer Lowe came to the excise tax debate Monday night undecided. After two hours, they left with opposing views.
"If this is the only alternative (for affordable housing), it would make me want to support the excise tax," said Jeff Lowe, a local photographer.
His wife went away with a different take. She fears the excise tax would promote development and encourage the construction of more and more houses.
More than a hundred concerned residents attended the two-hour debate at Howelson Hill Lodge, listening patiently as two local developers argued the pros and cons of a tax measure that would fund affordable housing. The debate was sponsored by Environment 2000, a local non-profit organization dedicated to educating the public on community concerns.
The debaters, Dave McDonald, a member of the Friends of Affordable Housing, and Steve Cavanagh, a local developer, squared off in front of the assembled crowd.
"We're all here because we care about Steamboat," McDonald said, as he argued the merits of the excise tax.
McDonald said that Steamboat has been talking about the affordable housing problem since 1972, but has failed to address it.
"Eighteen years later we finally have something on the ballot," McDonald said. He urged the community to act now before land prices soar even higher and more people leave the community.
"The fabric of the community is built on people who live and work here and raise families here," McDonald said.
Referendum 2A, also known as the excise tax, will be on the November ballot in Steamboat Springs.
The referendum would allow the City Council to levy a tax on new construction larger than 1,300 square feet. The tax revenues would be used to buy land for affordable housing.
But Cavanagh quickly went to work trying to deconstruct Referendum 2A line by line.
"The excise tax has potential for creating affordable housing for a select few. Housing in the middle sector is ignored," said Cavanagh.
According to the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, only families making $64,800 or less would be eligible for the affordable housing.
He also said that the referendum was too vague on how the city would use the tax revenues.
"We don't know what they're going to buy and it's our money," he said.
McDonald admitted the referendum was vague, but explained that the city didn't want to limit its options.
"There's a lot of good potential housing programs," McDonald said. "If you don't like the way they administer funds, you can remove your City Council members."
After opening arguments, the crowd took over. For much of the debate, the two men fielded questions from the audience.
One of the questions that seemed to capture much concern was is it fair to have to subsidize your neighbor?
That was the main concern of participants Pat and Leah Arnone, who plan to build a home next year in Pioneer Village where they bought a lot.
"We worked hard to make the money to hopefully build a home," said Leah Arnone who cleans houses for a living while her husband runs his own business.
"We don't feel we should have to pay the extra money for someone else's house, in addition to the other fees we have to pay," said her husband, Pat.
But homeowner Jeff Lowe said he thinks affordable housing is so important he would have taxed himself if he had the option.
"I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. I'd put it toward affordable housing," Lowe said.
Lowe said he and his wife know the struggle involved in finding a home.
"We bought a dump and try to make it work," Lowe said. "I have to work seven days a week. That's the only way we can afford it."
Now Lowe doesn't want someone else to have to go through the same thing.
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