Tuesday, September 12, 2000
Steamboat Springs A chamber of commerce leader pre-empted a City Council work session on community support funding Tuesday night by offering a proposal to phase out city subsidization of chamber marketing within five years. The proposal, set to begin with next year's budget, would reduce city expenditures by up to $281,000 by 2006.
"We are coming here in a spirit of community to try to put together a proposal that will hopefully meet the needs of the community as well as serve prudent in your ability to pass your budget," said Sandy Evans Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.
Although the council members discussed the viability of the plan, they did not vote on the entire five-year plan Tuesday.
They may not be able to vote on the plan in its entirety because the TABOR amendment prevents them from planning budgets that far in the future, City Council President Kevin Bennett said. They can, however, vote the phase-out into each successive budget in the next five years.
"Tourism and growth is not paying its way," said Councilman Jim Engleken, who had already proposed a two-year plan phasing out city subsidization of marketing. The amount of money saved from the phase-out is not going to solve all of the city's problems, he added.
Many of the nearly 150 residents who attended the meeting responded to Evans Hall's proposal in two hours of inspired public comment that featured arguments on both sides of the issue of subsidizing tourism.
The city paid out $311,665 to subsidize chamber marketing last year, which was paid for primarily with sales tax revenue. The city and chamber have had an informal agreement to fund marketing partially out of the city's coffers for 16 years.
In addition to the city's contribution, the chamber also received funding from a vendor's fee formerly paid out by local businesses.
The public discussion included about 40 members of the community voicing their opinions from all sides of the debate on growth that has raged throughout this community for a number of years.
The speakers ranged from developers and Realtors worried about the potential the proposal has to harm the tourist economy to angry snowboarders tired of paying for advertising aimed at attracting wealthy tourists. Some representatives of working families were at the meeting to support increased community funding and talked about needing more money to help fund social services in Steamboat. In these comments, the chamber's proposal often came into the picture as one possible method of diverting funds to city services.
"Human services need to be enhanced," said Darcy Trask, who had to leave the meeting early to take care of her children. "For working families who are employees, that's particularly critical."
Business owners who cater primarily to tourists warned the community and the council to take heed of the possible results of this proposal. Because the city relies entirely on sales tax revenue to fund the government, decreased marketing expenditures could mean less tourists in Steamboat. That, in turn, could mean less sales tax revenue. Also, many of the jobs in Steamboat rely entirely on tourism.
"I have a responsibility as the employer of 25 people whose jobs and their ability to have income is based very heavily on tourism," said Holiday Inn Manager Larry Wheeler.
The issue of ending the subsidization of growth by the city is not a new one. It was the first item mentioned on the council's proposed goals for 2001. It was also a major subject in a number of town meetings held this summer.
Those meetings, in addition to a community survey, helped prompt the chamber's decision to phase out city subsidies, Evans Hall said.
"Rather than let this be a decisive issue in the community, we decided to take action and be part of the solution in terms of finding a compromise that might bring the community back together again," Evans Hall said.
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