Council reviews ballot issues

Voters may face

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— When it comes to the slew of potential questions to pose to local voters in November, Steamboat Springs City Council members still have a lot of questions of their own.

Council members say they are interested in the possibility of pursuing many ballot issues, including one that would increase their pay, one for a recreation center, funding for ski base area improvements and a lodging tax for transportation. However, they acknowledge that they won't move forward with most of them.

The council will discuss these and other potential ballot questions Tuesday.

Among the contenders:

Recreation center

Since fall, community meetings and council discussions have spurred renewed interest in a city-owned recreation center.

The council commissioned a consultant to look into what the center should include and to identify potential sites for it.

Council members said they don't think they are ready to approve a ballot question for a center.

"I don't think that the community has enough information to make a good decision yet, and I know that I don't," council President Pro-tem Susan Dellinger said. "I think that we need to have a lot more information available and understand it as a council before we can feel comfortable putting something like that on."

Council member Paul Strong said, "We don't have the puzzle solved at this point in time." He said the council needs more information about what the center should include and where it should go.

"I'm in favor of having those discussions and moving forward with that. It makes sense to have it on the ballot next year," Strong said

Moving too quickly could be a fatal mistake for the question, council member Loui Antonucci said.

"I think that it's really dangerous to go into a ballot issue without enough information," Antonucci said. "If it fails the first time around, it makes it very difficult to go back the next year."

Also, he said, no one has discussed the center with residents who live near the potential sites.

"It might become more of a political battle than people think at this point," Antonucci said.

Other council members could not be reached for comment.

Recreation district

Talk about the formation of a recreation district is part of the same conversation as the recreation center, Strong said.

A recreation district would create a tax to fund recreation within the district's boundaries.

Strong thinks a ballot question asking residents to approve a local recreation district needs to wait a least a year.

"We're much farther down the road on the recreation center than we are on the recreation district," Strong said.

Antonucci also sees a connection between the two.

"I would think that you would have to have one before you have the other," Antonucci said. "In my estimation, the only reason we would have a recreation district is to fund a new recreation center."

Antonucci said there needs to be a discussion about the potential boundaries of the district, which could go beyond the city of Steamboat.

"That's a whole other set of legwork and time frame," he said.

Dellinger said more information is needed about whether the district would use a property tax and how much a potential tax would ask of taxpayers.

"The whole point of putting something on the ballot is that I want to know what the impact's going to be when we get there," she said. "I think most people who vote want to know, 'What's this going to do to me?'"

Base area

The council established an Urban Renewal Authority in 2005. The authority's intent is to raise money for public improvements at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.

The URA is financed by future property tax and sales tax growth within the URA boundaries. Officials are not likely to use URA funds to pay for the maintenance and operation of capital improvements in that area.

One idea council members are reviewing is the possibility of a general improvement district. GIDs are special districts that benefit from property tax revenues.

Strong said he didn't think the council should make an isolated decision about moving forward with a GID ballot question.

"It's really up to the members of the base area," Strong said. "The people up there are responsible for promoting it."

Antonucci and Dellinger agreed.

"I'm going with the community," Dellinger said.

Strong said although he is waiting for community support, he thinks that it would be good to see a GID ballot question as soon as possible. He does not want to start construction of base area projects without a way to pay for their operation and maintenance.

"The sooner the better for the projects as a whole," Strong said.

Lodging tax

At the council's last meeting, President Ken Brenner mentioned the possibility of a lodging tax to support transportation needs.

A lodging tax is a sales tax on short-term rentals of property. The city already has two in place.

Strong said the council should have started talking to the lodging community in February or March if they wanted to move forward with a ballot question this fall. It's too late now, he said.

"If we just say, 'Hey, we're going to do this,' usually the results aren't very good," Strong said. He said he would be interested in a lodging tax to support the arts.

Dellinger said she needed more information about the tax before she would support a ballot question, but she was intrigued.

"I think transportation does need to benefit from that kind of support," she said.

Solar power

City staff has looked into the possibility of clean renewable energy bonds.

The bonds would be issued by the city under a federal tax credit program, so there would be no interest. The money would be used for solar power cells for city buildings. The initiative would have no tax impact, but voters still must approve it because of its financial nature.

Dellinger said the question has potential for the 2006 ballot.

"I like the green thing, I like that we're thinking that way," she said.

Antonucci said he didn't know much about the issue, but he approved of the general idea of thinking environmentally.

"I fundamentally support being more energy efficient, absolutely," Antonucci said. "Even if it costs a little bit of money, it's probably the best investment we can make."

Council wages

Some council members also support asking voters to decide whether they deserve to be paid more.

The council president -- Brenner -- makes about $10,598 a year, the president pro-tem makes about $9,283 a year, and other council members make about $7,958 a year.

"My concern is that the amount of time we have to take as council members is limiting to who can be a council member," Dellinger said. She said that if the only people who can be on City Council are those who are self-employed, retired or financially able, it may not be the best representation of the community.

Antonucci thinks wages for council members should be a ballot question this year.

"The workload has increased, the time commitment has increased," he said. "Some form of reasonable increase would probably be warranted and probably be acceptable to the public."

Council members have attended 70 percent more meetings this year than they had at the same point of last year, according to city staff.

Strong said he did not support an increase in council pay.

"In a community the size of ours, the City Council should be members of the community working and involved in the community," Strong said. "If it were a higher paid position it would start separating the City Council from the people that live and work in the community and some of their issues."

Advisory questions?

Council members have discussed making one or more of these questions "advisory." Advisory ballot questions are those that ask voters simply whether they approve of the specific issue and would support it on a future ballot.

Strong isn't in favor of advisory questions. They are expensive, he said, and asking about an issue in the city's community survey makes more sense.

Also, Strong said, advisory questions do not reflect the representative form of government that Steamboat uses.

"We were elected to make those decisions," he said. "If voters don't like the decisions, then they can change their representatives."

-- To reach Dana Strongin, call 871-4229

or e-mail dstrongin@steamboatpilot.com.

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