Steamboat Springs Welcome to the new Steamboat Springs. That's right, you read it correctly. The Steamboat Springs City Council is failing to collect millions of tax dollars from developers while cutting donations to community support programs. OK, now pick your jaw up off of the table. It is all part of the new Steamboat, where developers come first.
After being audited, the developers claim that they deserve these refunds because these are new rules being applied differently. This is false. The rules have not changed. What has changed is the fact that they were audited and found to have underpaid the taxes that they legally owed. In fact, audits are routine; only routine audits usually are initiated by the developers and result in a refund when the taxes are overestimated. When the developers underestimate the taxes owed and they owe more, the self-initiated compliance and responsibility fade away into the "dark hole" of fuzzy math, and the system becomes very confusing to these same developers.
As someone who has had many sales tax licenses in Steamboat Springs (1973 to 1996) and was never audited, I feel that I have a good understanding of how the system works. Like the IRS, state income tax, etc., the primary principle is based upon responsibility and compliance. It is up to the merchant or developer to understand the rules and to take responsibility for following them.
Why are you just hearing about this? Good question, because the refund process has been going on for months. It began with private meetings consisting of council members, staff and developers during this past summer, and it first went public Aug. 5. It was at this time the council gave staff "direction" not to collect the vast majority of the taxes owed by the developers. Without any attempt to include the broader community, it would appear that the council assumed this issue was over. Unfortunately, the Pilot failed to cover this issue in any of its newspapers. If it weren't for the fact that the council's direction was illegal, the community probably would never have known about this. It wasn't until someone explained to council that they do not own Steamboat Springs they are but temporary stewards and have explicit rules that they, too, must follow.
The new ordinance crafted to refund millions to the developers now is to receive its second reading at this week's council meeting. Considering the city has no property tax and use tax is a one-time event, this council's legacy will be noted as being the most fiscally irresponsible, pro-growth City Council in Steamboat Springs history.