Tuesday, November 4, 2003
City voters turned down a property tax dedicated to fire and ambulance services for the second year in a row.
The outcome was much more decisive the second time around as Referendum 2A went down 1,615 to 953.
The 3.55-mill property tax would have raised $1.3 million for fire and ambulance services, thus freeing up $1.3 million in the general fund that the city would use for capital improvements.
City Council has said services will have to be cut because the tax was not approved.
"We need to have the public bleed a little bit before they recognize the fact that we are not kidding about a stable funding source," City Council President Kathy Connell said.
The tax would have cost homeowners about $28 for every $100,000 of assessed residential property and commercial property owners about $103 for every $100,000 of valuation.
Connell said the city would continue looking at changing its overall tax policy and how it balances sales taxes with a property tax.
"We have gotten so much sales tax, we are spoiled," Connell said. "If we don't get property taxes, we won't be able to fund all the things we are able to fund."
In 2002, a 5-mill property tax, which would have raised $1.9 million for the fire and ambulance department, failed by 253 votes.
"We came up with a better proposal for less money and were totally up front on how it was going to be spent," said Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner, who did not seek re-election. "Who knows why they voted the way they did."
Critics called the tax a bait-and-switch tactic and argued that residents should expect to have basic services such as fire and ambulance services covered by the general fund. Council candidates also had campaigned against the tax and said the city should look at a different tax structure.
District 2 Candidate Ken Brenner, who won Stettner's seat Tuesday, said he would support reducing sales tax for a property tax that would raise an equal amount of money. If more funds were needed, he said, it could be raised through a lodging tax.
"From what I heard, the (voters are) not convinced the council has taken a hard enough look at what's on the budget," Brenner said.
District 3 candidate Susan Dellinger proposed a property tax that would be used more for amenities such as parks and recreation and less for basic services, which she said she believed should be funded automatically.
Other residents have called for a citizens committee to review the city's tax structure.
City Council members who supported the tax said it would have raised much-needed money for capital improvements that they felt would have helped spark the city's economy.
The tax would have allowed the city to add six more firefighters and EMS personnel to its fire department, which would have doubled its full-time staff.
Without the tax, the city will have to decide if it should stick to a contract with the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District to increase its spending by $500,000 a year for fire services and capital improvements. If so, it could mean cutting other city services by $500,000 a year.
The failed tax also means the city likely will not fund projects to improve the Yampa Valley Regional Airport Terminal, the base of the ski area and city trails.