Council supports lodging proposal

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A 2 percent lodging tax to pay for airline guarantees got initial support from the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night.

Although no votes were taken, four of the six present council members said they supported the lodging community's proposal as it was presented. That means the proposal is in line to go on the November ballot.

Tuesday night was the first of two public meetings on the lodging tax. The second hearing and official vote will occur Sept. 7, one day before the city's ballot has to be set.

If approved by voters in November, the measure would form a Local Marketing District, which would raise about $1.2 million annually to help underwrite airline revenue guarantees. The plan assures that at least for the next five years, the Steamboat Springs Ski and Resort Corp. will continue its annual support of airline guarantees at levels comparable to what it has contributed in the past.

Council members raised questions about the boundaries of the proposed district, which snakes through the mountain and downtown areas to include most of the nightly lodging properties in the city. What the boundaries do not include are a lot of residences. As drawn, an estimated 200 to 300 registered voters live within the boundaries of the district, and only they would be eligible to vote on the plan.

"We didn't feel the need to include the entire city in this and felt we would have a higher chance of success to do it this way," said Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans Hall, who made the presentation to the council.

Three council members -- Kathy Connell, Loui Antonucci and Nancy Kramer -- voiced full support for the tax, while two -- Ken Brenner and Susan Dellinger -- asked the lodging committee to wait. That effectively left the decision to Council President Paul Strong.

Strong said he thinks the district should extend to the entire city, but that economically, the tax is needed to support the airline funding.

"I think it is a far from perfect proposal," Strong said. "But, I think it is critical to the economy, and I think that it is necessary at this time."

Connell, who is a member of the lodging community, said the tax would equally charge guests and lodging properties, something that is not done under the current volunteer program with the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. She pointed to past attempts for different groups to raise tax money for airline funding and noted the proposed tax is fair and would help the economy.

"We need to quit stalling while our community is bleeding," Connell said.

Ken Brenner and Susan Dellinger were opposed to the proposal, saying it was premature and should include the entire city. The two asked that the proposal wait until the tax policy advisory group finished with its comprehensive look at the city's tax structure.

"It will turn out to be a divisive issue. Tax revenue belongs to all citizens, not just special interest groups," Brenner said.

Co-Chairman of the Tax Policy Advisory Board Ken Solomon said some members of the group were in favor of the tax, while others questioned its limited boundaries, the lack of a sunset period and the inability to put a lodging tax to other uses.

"We had looked at an accommodations tax as another method of revenue generation," he said.

Under the proposal, Ski Corp is responsible for the airline contract negotiations. The city would appoint a five-member board to manage the district. The council would have the options of limiting the board's powers and would approve the plan for expenditures of tax funds each year. The council president would lead the district's board, and the council would have the authority to dissolve the district.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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