Our View: Lodging tax should take off

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Give the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's Lodging Committee credit for creativity.

The committee has developed a proposal that gives it the best chance to secure stable funding for airline flight guarantees -- a Local Marketing District that, if approved, would implement a 2 percent lodging tax to raise about $1.2 million per year. The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. would continue to pick up the majority -- 60 percent -- of the program's annual cost.

As drawn, the district would include all of the major lodging properties in Steamboat Springs and just enough households that 200 to 300 residents would be eligible to vote in the election.

Clearly, the Lodging Committee manipulated the boundaries of the district to give the tax the greatest chance for approval. Based on past experience, such an approach is politically savvy. In 2001, city voters rejected an airline flight guarantee proposal that included taxes on restaurant meals and lift tickets as well as lodging. If the boundaries stay as proposed this time around, advocates would have a small, captive audience -- mostly residents living on the Sheraton Golf Course and in the Sanctuary -- to convince of the need to vote for the tax.

Typically, we might bristle at such gerrymandering, but in this case, it is irrelevant. In essence, this is a tax that has little or no effect on residents. Rather, it is a matter of the lodging community taking responsibility for funding flights that bring lodging customers to Steamboat Springs and the surrounding communities.

Those opposed to airline flight guarantees might feel deprived of the opportunity to vote against the tax. But voting down the tax won't stop airline flight guarantees, which would continue to be funded by businesses in the community anyway. A tax would merely stabilize the funding of such flights.

If anything, creating a local taxing district will open the airline flight program to more public scrutiny and accountability. Currently, businesses contribute funds to the chamber, and the Ski Corp. manages the airline flight program.

If the eligible voters approve the marketing district, which we suspect it will, the Steamboat Springs City Council would appoint a five-member board to oversee the funds. Ski Corp. would continue to manage the program, but residents with an interest in airline flight guarantees would have access to board meetings, minutes and public records regarding the flights. We do not question Ski Corp.'s past management of the flight guarantees, but certainly greater public accountability would enhance our understanding of the program and what it brings to the area.

Flight guarantees are critical to our destination-resort economy. And direct jet flights -- which are now offered in summer as well as ski season -- include benefits well beyond the skiing and lodging industries. Residents have direct air access to a number of markets at competitive prices that nonresort communities cannot offer. And the taxes and fees -- both direct and indirect -- paid by air visitors help fund our parks, schools and other amenities.

Steamboat's lodging industry is willing to tax tourists to provide, with Ski Corp's help, flights that are an asset to the entire Northwest Colorado region. We think the City Council should seize this opportunity and put the Local Marketing District proposal on the November ballot.

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