In a 4-3 vote, the City Council decided to give $100,000 in its first boost to Yampa Valley Regional Airport's summer air program.
It was one of a few items in the city budget intended to help rejuvenate the city's economy. During Tuesday's all-day budget hearing, the council also agreed to keep $75,000 in special event funding, to earmark an extra $50,000 in capital improvements for the base of the ski area and to continue to fund the economic gardening program with $25,000.
The council also agreed that if a proposed property tax passes in November, it would put $250,000 toward improvements at YVRA over the next five years.
"It really was a leap of faith," Council President Kathy Connell said. "It was very courageous to try to do what we thought was necessary to stimulate the economy for our community."
The city agreed to take more than $200,000 out of reserves to fund the 2004 budget, a portion of which will go toward the summer airline program.
Sandy Evans-Hall, executive vice president of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, asked the council to contribute $100,000 to assist the chamber's attempts to bring another daily summer flight into YVRA.
Evans-Hall estimated the total cost of the program would be $250,000 with $200,000 used to attract a flight with revenue guarantees and $50,000 used to market it. Businesses and the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corporation would pick up the rest of the bill.
Evans-Hall pointed to a program Eagle County Airport recently put in place in which a daily, nonstop 757 flight out of Dallas/Fort Worth is subsidized by a $450,000 minimum revenue guarantee. The guarantee was made by government entities and the local business sector and because the flight was heavily booked, the actually subsidy amounted to $25,000.
The most promising plan the chamber is working on would be entering into a $200,000 minimum revenue guarantee contract with Continental Airlines and bringing a nonstop flight from Huston's Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Councilman Bud Romberg supported the funding, saying one of the responsibilities of the council was to ensure a viable economy.
"I don't think we are becoming a more diversified economy. It is a tourism-based economy, which is what generates a good deal of sales tax revenue and supports what locals are enjoying as far as a quality of life," Romberg said. "There is a 2 percent increase in sales tax dollars projected, and I think it is our responsibility to ensure that revenues can be reached."
Some council members questioned the city's funding for the summer air program, asking whether the city should focus on more basic services first. Councilman Steve Ivancie called for a dedicated funding source, as other communities have done, for its chamber, marketing and air programs.
Ivancie said $100,000 was too much and preferred spending money to improve the YVRA airport terminal.
"That is how the city supports the business community and everyone," Ivancie said. "We build basic services and infrastructure, and we cannot overlook that."
Ivancie and fellow council members Arianthe Stettner and Paul Strong did not support giving $100,000 to the summer air program.
Stettner said she wasn't ready to fund the summer airline program to that level and pointed to what has happened with the city's funding of the winter airline program, on which it also spends $100,000.
"The opportunity costs for us to play in that game have gotten more and more expensive and we are looking to play that game in the summer," Stettner said. "Will the opportunity cost to play the game in the summer get us in a bigger hole? Are we in fact digging ourselves into (a hole) faster, deeper and quicker?"
Connell and Romberg and council members Loui Antonucci and Nancy Kramer supported funding the summer air program.
Stettner and Ivancie also voted against fully funding the city's contribution to special events development. Stettner suggested reducing the $75,000 requested for special event development after the council granted $100,000 for the summer air program.
Others council members disagreed.
"I think this is just (Economics) 101 as far as funding services when times get tough, this is when you re-invest in the community to make sure you are to be economically viable," Connell said.
Kim Mitchell from the chamber said that a few years ago, the city gave the chamber the task of deciding where to spend special event development money as a way to better deal with the many requests for funding new events.
This year, Mitchell said, different organizations requested $150,000 in special event funding with only half of that amount being given.
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