Poll shows support for tax increase

59 percent of respondents favor mill levies

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— As fires rage through Colorado, it was little surprise to City Council members that a recent telephone poll showed 59 percent of Steamboat residents would support a property tax for fire and ambulance services.

In a poll taken last week by the Boulder firm, RRC Associates, 300 residents were called and asked what property tax they would be willing to support.

The three options were mill levies for fire and ambulance services, Howelsen Hill facilities and capital improvement projects.

Fifty-nine percent said they would definitely vote yes or probably vote yes for a property tax of up to five mills on operations, equipment and facility needs of the fire and ambulance departments.

Fifty-six percent said they would definitely or probably vote yes for a property tax of 3 mills to fund the operations, equipment and facility needs of the Howelsen Hill complex.

While 51 percent said they would definitely or probably vote yes for a property tax of 3 mills to fund specified community capital improvement projects.

That information, City Council President Kathy Connell said, will help council gauge what property tax could go on November's ballot.

The council will look at the survey results during Tuesday's meeting, but a decision on what tax voters will see on November's ballot does not have to be determined until September.

The request to survey registered voters living in Steamboat came during the June 11 council meeting.

At the meeting, City Finance Director Don Taylor presented five property tax options that could be used to help the city meet the $27 million worth of capital improvements targeted for the next five years.

If the city pursued its goal to spend 15 percent of its budget on capital projects, it could see cuts from its operating budget totalling close to $4 million by 2008.

Connell and councilman Paul Strong both said they were not surprised by the survey respondents' support of funding for fire protection.

Connell said it was similar to the results of the massive 2002 Community Survey, which was also done by RRC Associates.

"I think it is consistent with the big survey on how much the community values our natural resources and the environment. (Our vulnerability to fire) makes so many people want to preserve that and they don't want to have a catastrophe," Connell said.

Strong was not surprised by the survey results and said his views have changed somewhat from his position at the June 11 council meeting where he opposed imposing a property tax for fire services.

The fire tax proposal would allow a mill levy to cover the cost of the city's fire department, which received $1.5 million in 2002 from the city's general fund and is looking to expand.

Strong had opposed the tax during the June 11 meeting stating even if the ballot issue failed, the city would continue supporting fire services.

But his opinion has changed because a fire tax would allow the city to increase the budget and add full time staff, he said.

"If we are not going to be able to fully fund the fire department without increased revenue, then there is some rationale to having a fire issue," he said.

"But if the council puts the issue on the ballot and it fails, we are not going to close down the fire department."

City Clerk Julie Jordan said the last day the city can place something on the ballot is Tuesday, September 10.

But because of a mid-summer break, the city has only four meetings left before a first reading is required.

Connell said the council would most likely direct staff at next Tuesday's council meeting to return with one or two tax options.

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