Our View: LMD best way to fund airlines

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There should be no debate -- airline flight guarantees are critical to destination resorts like Steamboat Springs. The challenge is how to fund those guarantees.

We think Ballot Issue 2A in the Nov. 2 election is the best way to answer that challenge.

Ballot Issue 2A was proposed by the city's lodging community with the help of the Chamber Resort Association and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. The proposal would create a Local Marketing District whose boundaries include most of the lodging properties within the city. A 2 percent lodging tax would be assessed within the district, raising about $1.2 million per year for direct flights from major markets into Yampa Valley Regional Airport. Ski Corp., which historically has funded the majority of the flight guarantees, has agreed to match the marketing district dollar for dollar in funding up to $1.25 million or pay 60 percent of the cost of the winter air program, whichever is less.

Currently, businesses throughout the community are asked to fund flight guarantees on a voluntary basis. Inevitably, this leads to unequal levels of contribution from similar businesses and pledges that are not fulfilled. The marketing district and lodging tax would be a far more stable way to fund jet flights than the existing method.

Ballot Issue 2A is not without critics. Most upsetting to some is the way the district was drawn. While the boundaries take in most of the lodging properties, just a fraction of the city's homes are in the district. That means only about 640 residents are eligible to vote on the ballot issue. Critics think the proposal should be voted upon by the entire city.

We agree that citywide support for Ballot Issue 2A would bee good. But history has proven it's risky to count on such support, even when the proposal is so clearly in the interest of the community as a whole.

State law permits the boundaries to be drawn the way they were. And because this is a tax on lodging that will be paid by tourists and does not affect residents, there is no obligation to put the issue to a citywide vote.

Others have argued that a 2-percent tax on lodging undercuts the ability to tax lodging to help fund other needs. We don't think that is the case. The approval of this tax should not preclude others from coming forward with sound proposals.

Finally, some argue that the City Council's decision to allow the local marketing district to go to the ballot establishes a bad precedent that will make it impossible for the council to say no to niche taxing ideas in the future. That's silly. Council members have a responsibility to evaluate individual proposals on their merits, approving those that make sense and rejecting those that don't. Approval of the local marketing district in no way relieves the council of that responsibility.

Although not all residents will vote on the local marketing district, all of the city's residents will have a say in the district's operation through the City Council. Under the proposal, the council approves the district's taxing plan, appoints and removes members of the board and can dissolve the district at any time.

Airline flight guarantees are not just for tourists -- without the guarantees, residents would have far fewer options for flying in or out of our regional airport and those options would be significantly more expensive. This is a plan that benefits us all, and we would urge those who can vote on Ballot Issue 2A to approve it.

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