3 taxes options on 2003 ballot

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— More than nine months away from the November election, tax initiatives for the 2003 ballot are far from set in stone.

But in the tax talks that swirl around Routt County, three taxes are front-running possibilities for a 2003 vote: a city fire tax, a tax for a new judicial facility and a tax to support the Tread of Pioneers Museum.

Representatives from all three are clear in stating a 2003 ballot question is not a certainty but could happen.

What is concrete are the tax issues that won't appear on the ballot.

Tom Hopp, president of the East Routt Library District, said the board would not ask voters this year for a tax increase to fund the Bud Werner Memorial Library expansion. In fact, Hopp said the tax increase could still be several years away as the library gauges the community's needs.

In a recent joint meeting between the Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County commissioners, the group decided 2003 was also not the year to go for a tax to support Yampa Valley Regional Airport or a tax for affordable housing.

The towns of Hayden and Oak Creek said they had no tax issues planned for 2003 and the three school districts also do not have tax increases on this year's agenda.

Fire tax

Councilman Paul Strong said there is the possibility of a fire tax returning to the voters in 2003. In last November's election, a fire tax failed by just 253 votes. The tax would have raised $1.9 million in property taxes to cover the city's fire and ambulance services. It would have added $600,000 to the fire and ambulance budget and freed up $1.3 million in the city budget to use toward capital.

Strong said if the fire tax goes to the voters a second time, it would most likely just ask for the $600,000 increase to the fire and ambulance department, which would be a 1 to 1.5 mill levy.

"What we would like is a much smaller tax than what we proposed last year," Strong said.

But the council is also in discussions to consolidate with the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire District. Strong said the rural fire district could expand to incorporate the city or it could dissolve and a new district could form encompassing both entities.

Either option would take time and Strong said a consolidation question, and the tax to go with it, would not likely appear before the voters this year.

SUBHED: Court tax

If voters are going to be asked to fund a county judicial center, 2003 is the last year to do it, County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. But Stahoviak said the county will not know until late spring whether it wants to ask voters a second time to support a bond issue.

Last November, voters said no to funding a proposed $17 million judicial center.

Before deciding to take the question back to the voters, the county has to determine size, location and cost, Stahoviak said. Under the state mandate, this is the last year the county could ask the voters to help fund the judicial center through a property tax increase.

SUBHED: Museum tax

At a recent Tread of Pioneers Museum Board meeting, members decided to move forward in pursuing a mill levy to help fund the Steamboat Springs museum. But Curator Candice Lombardo said the board still has not decided if the tax question will come in 2003 or 2004.

The museum board also does not know what that tax question could look like. The board is initiating talks with other museums and preservation committees in Routt County to see if they would be interesting in joining together to ask voters for a mill levy to support preservation efforts countywide.

If they are, Lombardo said, it could be a lengthy process before going to the voters and would most likely be held until 2004.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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