Saturday, August 10, 2002
Few things are as vital to Steamboat Springs as the air program, making it all the more frustrating that funding for the program can be so hard to come by.
The program pays to guarantee jet flights into Yampa Valley Regional Airport during the ski season. Without the guarantees, the airlines will use their jets to fly more profitable business routes elsewhere. And without direct flights to and from Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Newark and similar major markets, Steamboat can't compete with other ski resorts. The bottom line? Nearly every local business benefits when jets bring visitors to Steamboat Springs during the winter, and nearly every business will be hurt if the jets aren't flying.
This year, jet flights will cost Steamboat Springs $2.15 million, of which Ski Corp. will pay $1.3 million. That leaves the business community to raise the other $850,000, about $300,000 more than last year. It's a daunting challenge made even more difficult by the sour economy. The Steamboat Air Program Task Force revised the air program to meet the increased demand for funding. The program contains more benefits for those businesses that contribute and places more pressure on businesses that haven't contributed to do so. The program also doubles the minimum contribution for businesses that gross more than $800,000.
According to the chamber, about 20 percent of its members who account for about 60 percent of the chamber's membership revenues have contributed to the air program in the past. No doubt some businesses are bristling at the idea of raising their contribution levels this year, especially when they know some of their competitors will reap the benefits of the air program without contributing a dime. Still, the task force had little choice. Once voters turned down the so-called 3-2-1 tax proposal to fund the air program last November, the only option was to go back to the business community for more funds. But it's not reasonable to expect the chamber to return to its members year after year and ask them to give more and more funds to keep jets flying into YVRA. As long as it is on a voluntary basis, some businesses simply won't participate, and as the cost increases, there is the risk participation will decrease. That leaves a few businesses to shoulder the financial burden of a program that benefits all.
The 3-2-1 tax proposal, a scale of tax increases on entertainment activities that would have raised more than $2 million annually, garnered 42 percent of the vote in November. That proposal should be studied for revisions that would win over another 10 percent of voters. Perhaps there is a fee structure that can involve the entire business community.
Sandy Evans-Hall, executive vice president of the chamber, said response to the new air program has been more positive than negative thus far and she believes participation can increase this year. Let's hope she is right. But in the long run, there has to be a better way. Jet flights are vital to this community's economy, and it's incumbent upon the community to find a more equitable, more stable source of funding for them.