Airline subsidy tax favored

Council willing to put chamber-backed plan on ballot


— With four tax proposals potentially on their way to the November ballot before Tuesday night's City Council meeting, only one a chamber-supported proposal to pay for airline guarantees will likely make it to the voters.

Although the City Council noted the chamber will have to make a serious pitch to the overall public to pass a tax primarily dedicated to airline subsidies, the council made it clear Tuesday it is willing to put the proposal on the November ballot.

Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall said she thinks the group's proposal will help stabilize the community's economy and will not burden locals.

"We think that we've found a foundation for economic stability," Evans-Hall said. "We've attempted to address your concerns with each of our changes."

The tax would be collected on items and services used primarily by tourists a 3-percent lift ticket tax, a 2 percent tax on tourism activities, lodging and equipment rentals and a 1 percent restaurant tax to raise $2.9 million. Neither retail nor grocery items would be taxed in the proposal, a big selling point for the council.

"We truly believe this is a very fair and equitable proposal we're putting in front of you. The burden of the tax is going to be paid for by the people enjoying the benefits," said Ulrich Salzgeber of Alpine Taxi.

Tuesday was the third City Council meeting during which the proposal had been discussed and the chamber has incorporated significant revisions each time. This time the changes came in the form of a $500,000 subsidy for the city's transit system. To keep the airline subsidy at its desired level despite the city transit subsidy, the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. will be putting in $500,000 a year. Some council members pushed the group to put even more into the transit system, which Evans-Hall said the group would consider.

The group will also consider whether the tax will have a sunset provision to denote when the tax will end and if the community will be able to vote to prolong it. Currently no sunset provision is in place.

The airline guarantee program which subsidizes airline flights into Yampa Valley Regional Airport has become a "necessary evil" in Steamboat Springs, according to some local business people. The airlines will not come to the Steamboat area without guaranteed revenue that has been put up by ski corp. and the local business community in the past. Less flights coming to Steamboat means less tourists means less revenue for both businesses and the city, they argue.

Some who spoke out during public comment, however, said giving the business community the chance to bring more people into the valley could light a dangerous fuse. They argued that the influx of tourists will inspire more growth in the community.

"I don't think you should make any attempt to increase the growth of this community until you have addressed the problem of growth itself," said John Whittum.

Nonetheless, the dispute over tourism and growth was one the council felt ought to be played out as the group attempts to sell its proposal to the public.

The chamber will draft an ordinance to get the proposal into ballot language and will bring it back to City Council by the July 23 deadline for ballot questions.

Before the group left, however, Councilman Jim Engelken warned it of the task ahead.

"Selling the electorate out there is going to be extremely difficult," he said.


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