Steamboat Springs The chamber will have to hope that the third time's a charm after the Steamboat City Council balked Tuesday night at supporting a revised proposal presented by the chamber to put a sales-tax ballot question to the voters in November. The chamber will try to bring back a revised proposal by July 17.
Council noted the revised proposal did well to reduce the impact of the tax on locals, but that it still did not meet the city's expectations. The tax proposal would bring almost $2.9 million into the city through tax increases on lodging, restaurant meals, sports-equipment rentals, tourist activities and lift tickets. The money would be dedicated primarily to subsidizing airline transportation into Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
"It would help us sustain our place as a convenient destination ski resort for years to come," said Sandy Evans-Hall, the executive vice president of the chamber.
The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, which pulled back from its original proposal to ask for a 1.5-percent sales tax on all goods and services, was hoping to ask the public to approve a tax that would focus more heavily on tourist-related items.
The new proposal includes a 1-percent tax on restaurant meals and a 3-percent tax on lift tickets. It would also tax lodging 2 percent, sports equipment rentals 2 percent and tourist activities such as snowmobile rides 2 percent. The tax would sunset in eight years.
The chamber changed its proposal after chamber representatives spoke to City Council members and realized they might not be able to get the item on the ballot without substantial modifications. The original proposal would have hit locals much harder than the new one, because it would have been added to all retail purchases, Evans-Hall said. That would mean a 9.9-percent tax for shoppers in Steamboat Springs on all goods and services. Visitors would be paying more than 90 percent of the taxes with the amended proposal, Evans-Hall said. Retail taxes, including groceries, would still be taxed at 8.4 percent under the new proposal.
But City Council members, who noted that the amended proposal was a step in the right direction, were concerned with the chamber's request to ask the community for that much money for the airline program.
Councilmen Jim Engelken and Ken Brenner both wondered aloud how much money the community would have to keep giving the airlines to get them to fly into the Yampa Valley.
Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and the local business community supported the airline program to the tune of $2.15 million this winter, though the program may cost more in upcoming years. The city also pitched in $90,000. The tax proposal could help the community break away from its dependence on business donations for the airline program, say proponents of the tax.
Engelken noted that the ski corp. gave more than $1 million to the airline program this year, and though the company would be hit by the lift-ticket tax and the ski- rental tax, it would be getting a break because of the new tax.
Council members such as President Kevin Bennett noted that the tax, which would be dedicated to "transportation" would primarily be supporting transit into the airport but not another vital transit source Steamboat Springs Transit. The old proposal looked to give the local transit department almost $600,000 in funding from the tax, but that line item was eliminated in the new trimmed-down proposal.
Councilman Bud Romberg, who supported the intent of the proposal, brought up the point that the chamber's tax might be competing with other tax proposals on the November ballot. The city is also considering placing a tax question on the ballot to support child care.
"Perhaps the city's role is to act in a coordinating capacity to try to get all the various funding mechanisms to work together," Romberg said.
Sharyl Ritschel, who came to the meeting to speak in favor of the child-care tax, said an additional tax on the ballot might hurt the chances of getting the child- care proposal passed.
"There are only a certain amount of tax dollars to be had, so people will have to make a choice," Ritschel said.