Our View: Driven by the market

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When residents of Hayden gathered Thursday to discuss how to manage pending growth, Boulder consultant Bob Perletz had some advice. "The purpose is to not let the market drive the community," Perletz said, "but let the community drive the market."

Perletz is right -- changing communities are always better served if there is a visionary plan, supported by residents, and implemented and enforced by a responsible local government. But such a plan can occur only if the government is prepared to act decisively and move artfully enough to stay ahead of the market.

In the absence of a planned vision, the market will drive community policy. For proof of that, Hayden residents need look no farther than Steamboat Springs.

Time and again the agile market has put the plodding and cumbersome Steamboat Springs city government on its heels. Now, the market is poised to turn the city-appointed Tax Policy Advisory Board into an ineffective bystander.

The Tax Policy Advisory Board's reaction to a proposed 2 percent lodging tax to pay for airline flight guarantees is too little, too late. In a letter the board is writing to the city, members said allowing such a tax to move forward could set a bad precedent.

"Because the (lodging tax) is being considered outside of a broader consideration of city revenue needs and potential sources to meet those needs, it leaves open the possibility of other entities/organizations seeking taxing ability in the same ad hoc manner," the letter reads.

In other words, the proposed lodging tax could undermine what the tax board is trying to accomplish. While the Lodging Committee moves decisively, all the consensus-and-agenda-bound tax board can do is wring its hands and try to cajole the City Council into purblind obstructionism.

The tax board, formed in February, was to provide the City Council with a specific recommendation on tax policy by this summer. We supported the board's creation and looked forward to its recommendations.

But not only has the board failed to develop any policy recommendations, its laggardly pace has allowed the market, as its wont to do when there's an abyss, to steal the advantage. The board is left pleading with the city not to approve the lodging tax, or any other proposed revenue stream for that matter, until it offers its already overdue recommendations.

Our view is that the formation of the tax board was a catalyst for the lodging community's tax proposal. If there is going to be an additional lodging tax, the lodging community logically wants to continue its control of how those tax dollars are spent. We can't fault the lodging community for that.

Besides, it's not as if the Tax Policy Advisory Board didn't see the lodging tax coming. The proposal was presented to the board in late spring. But at that time, the board was mired in discussions about city expenditures, despite clear warnings from the City Council to stay focused on the larger question of tax revenues.

We have supported the lodging community's proposal. A 2 percent lodging tax is a reasonable means of securing funds for direct jet flights from major markets, which are critical to our resort economy.

Would it have been better for the proposal to come as part of an overall tax structure recommended by the Tax Policy Advisory Board? Absolutely. But the board missed its chance to act. And it is unreasonable to ask the community to hold off on sound proposals until the tax board can reach consensus. Who knows when -- or even if -- that will occur?

If the board wants to influence Steamboat's tax policy, it better narrow its focus quickly and complete its mission. Otherwise, as board members should now understand, the market can and will do it for them.

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