While the city of Steamboat Springs has begun to see signs that tax revenues are starting to turn around, the City Council would be wise to take a conservative approach to spending.
The Haymaker Golf Course clubhouse is a project that could use such an approach.
On Tuesday night, the Golf Management Committee estimated the price tag for a new clubhouse at $3.96 million. The council did not approve the clubhouse Tuesday; rather, council members approved spending $90,000 for more detailed construction drawings.
But the council didn't exactly challenge the Golf Committee's estimates either. Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Director Chris Wilson said the cost is appropriate for a 6,300-square-foot facility, and no one on the council seemed to disagree.
We think the clubhouse at Haymaker should be replaced. The facility is small, unsightly and inadequate for the course. Haymaker is one of the best public courses in the state, and its presence along the all-important corridor into the city calls for a quality clubhouse that welcomes arriving guests.
Haymaker never has attracted tourists in the numbers envisioned when it was built. The concept was that out-of-town golfers paying higher rates would help keep rates down for residents. Golf Committee members argue a new clubhouse would attract more out-of-town guests.
Maybe so. But $4 million seems like an awful lot to spend on a clubhouse for a course that only cost $5 million when it was built. Doesn't it seem reasonable to ask whether a quality clubhouse could be built for, say, $2 million?
Since September, city sales tax receipts have increased in every month over the same month the year before. The city netted more than $400,000 in additional revenue from September of 2003 through February of 2004 than it did from September of 2002 to February of 2003. That's a gain of almost 6 percent and serves as a sign that the economy is finally rebounding from two years of rather dismal performance. Such gains should ease some of the financial pressures the city has faced of late, unless the city commits funds unnecessarily.
It's important to note that Golf Committee members do not propose using sales taxes for the clubhouse. Rather, the city's accommodations tax, which generated about $615,000 last year, would be used. The accommodations tax, approved by voters in 1986 for amenities to attract tourists, has been dedicated to the golf course since the mid-1990s, and the Golf Committee has been able to build a $1.5 million reserve fund that will help defray the cost of the clubhouse.
But a $4 million clubhouse would tie up the accommodations tax well beyond 2013, the year the city is scheduled to finish paying off the current debt on the course. That's money that could be used to help defray other tourism-related costs, including replacing the city's Tennis Center and making improvements at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
City sales tax revenues are finally on the rebound, and a tax policy committee is reviewing the city's tax structure. The city has the chance to build a more stable, more secure financial base for well into the future.
That's not going to happen without a cautious approach to spending. Such an approach needs to be more apparent when the Golf Committee returns before the City Council with specific plans for a new clubhouse.