Tax plan targets tourism

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— After meeting with the City Council this week, chamber officials said they are optimistic they can draft a ballot proposal the city will approve the real test may come when the question goes to the voters in November.

The Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association presented a revised ballot proposal to the council Tuesday, amending a proposal to add 1.5 cents to the current 8.4-cent sales tax in the city. The new proposal looked to place the brunt of the tax on tourists, focusing on lodging, recreation activities such as skiing and snowmobiling and restaurants.

The revised tax proposal would have brought 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.

Although City Council members picked certain aspects of the revised proposal apart, Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall said the overall sense she got from the meeting was extremely positive.

The city will likely place the tax on the ballot for the voters to decide as long as the chamber tacks a subsidy on for the city's free bus service, she said.

The old proposal gave the local transit department almost $600,000 in funding from the tax, but that line item was eliminated in the new trimmed-down proposal.

"I got that there were some really simple things that we could do," Evans-Hall said. She was not sure where the money for the transit service would come from but said she would talk to Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials about the company's role in subsidizing the airline program.

She said she will meet with Steamboat Ski Area President Chris Diamond next week to try to develop the revised proposal.

Evans-Hall said one of the biggest challenges will be convincing the public to vote for the tax, which is dedicated to financing the airline subsidy program traditionally funded by American Ski and Resort Co. and the local business community. Evans-Hall said the fact that locals will not be particularly burdened by the revised tax bodes well for the proposal.

"We definitely are hearing that the proposal should not impact locals as much as possible," Evans-Hall said.

She added that the airline program could also aid locals who want to fly into and out of the region during the winter.

Holiday Inn General Manager Larry Wheeler, who is a proponent of the tax, said locals should realize the economic vitality of the town depends on getting tourists from large markets such as New York and Chicago.

"People need to understand that for the overall economic health of this town to remain solid, we have resolve some of these marketing issues," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said that with the increased competition for tourists in Colorado, ease of access to the area may prove the most important variable affecting Steamboat's tourist market.

"If the perception is they can go someplace else, they will," he said.

Though the airline subsidy program may not be the most desirable option to get tourists into the area, it is a necessary evil, he said.

"There may or may not be other ways to do this. Right now this may be the only way," Wheeler said.

City Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell said she thinks the tax proposal needs some "tweaking" before coming back to council, but that the premise behind the proposal is one the entire community needs to get behind.

"What I'm seeing and I'm very pleased is that they're being very responsive to council's concerns," Connell said.

The chamber will work with City Attorney Tony Lettunich to get the proposal ready for a vote by City Council by July 17, but may have council take another look at the revision before it goes to vote.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203 or e-mail asalzman@steamboatpilot.com.

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