The New Year's holiday provides the opportunity to reflect on the year that passed and resolve to make the most of the year to come. With that in mind, we offer a look back at what transpired in 2004 and the challenges awaiting in 2005:
n Our economy came back strong in 2004. Sales tax receipts for the year are up 6.5 percent, and 14 of the past 15 months have shown increases over the same month the year before. Construction is up. Building-use fees rose. These are trends that we would like to see continued in 2005.
The shifting retail landscape had something to do with the turnaround. 2004 was a pivotal year for the arrival of big-box retail with the construction of a Gart Sports, the announcement of a new Walgreens on U.S. Highway 40 and the construction of two major shopping centers -- Wildhorse Marketplace and the expanded Central Park Plaza.
The challenge in 2005 is to ensure that the new retail enhances the sales tax base without undercutting the community's independently owned businesses. Surely, some of the new retail can plug our higher than average retail leakage. And through programs such as Main Street Steamboat, a smart effort to enhance and market the downtown area, locally owned businesses not only can survive, but also can thrive in the face of national competition.
n The proposed urban renewal authority can help businesses in the mountain area compete better. As such, finalizing the URA should be on the city's agenda for 2005.
n The completion of the first phase of terminal improvements, the addition of summer jet flights to Houston, the announcement that fall flights to Houston would begin in 2005, and the passage of a lodging tax to fund airline-flight guarantees were the most significant changes at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in more than a decade. The airport is a significant component of our tourist economy, and the changes at YVRA must continue. Foremost, the county must be diligent in ensuring that the second of the three-phase improvement project continues as scheduled.
n No single issue attracted more attention in 2004 than the new Routt County Justice Center. The county has spent millions of dollars on two potential sites, and at this point, it is not clear whether either will work. In 2005, we urge the county commissioners to take the time to make sure they get their decision right. The county can afford to go another year without a justice center; it can't afford to continue spending money on plans that won't work.
n At the Steamboat Ski Area, the most significant change was the replacement of the outdated Burgess Creek lift. We hope that American Skiing Company's ability to restructure its debt in 2004 will allow the company to take on similar capital projects in 2005.
n The Steamboat Springs School District survived a significant scare in 2004 when it fought off a legislative attempt to ban the half-cent sales tax for education. Signs are that the issue will not re-emerge in 2005. Instead, the district faces perhaps an even bigger challenge -- replacing two longtime, highly successful principals: John DeVincentes of Strawberry Park Elementary School and Dave Schmid of Steamboat Springs High School. Strawberry Park and the high school are the district's two highest rated schools, and the new principal hires will be critical to the schools' continued success.
n On the state level, the Legislature failed miserably last year in efforts to solve the state's fiscal crisis. Meaningful budget reform got lost in the partisan bickering typical of an election year. This year, with no election and a new majority in the House and Senate, we expect the Legislature to offer a plan to reform the conflicting requirements of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and Amendment 23.
We hope some of the aforementioned comes to pass in 2005, and we wish everyone a happy and healthy new year.