Editorial Board, September 2008
- Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
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The Steamboat Springs City Council was right to separate its tourism marketing budget from its overall community support funding allocations, but now is not the time to consider dramatic cuts to the city's contribution to the Chamber.
Last week, City Council considered a proposal from the Finance Department to trim the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's summer tourism marketing budget from $638,352 to $440,000. Although council members didn't take action on the proposal, there was some support expressed for the plan.
One of the reasons for the projected $200,000 shortfall is related to a complicated formula that provides revenue for tourism marketing. Historically, Steamboat businesses received a rebate from the state compensating them for the bookkeeping involved in making state sales tax payments. In 1984, area businesses agreed to let the city keep the rebate to use for marketing Steamboat.
The amount the city dedicates to summer marketing equates to 3.3 percent of the sales tax it collects from local merchants. The 3.3 percent allocation is identical to the sales tax rebate the state offers businesses for their bookkeeping. But the state's sales tax rebate has changed over the years, including deductions for audit findings, late filings and tax collected on the sale of businesses.
Accordingly, both changes to the sales tax rebate and the fluctuating nature of city sales tax revenues means a projected decrease in the funds dedicated for tourism marketing in 2009. Although we support the city's efforts to adjust the marketing budget based on the changes to state rebates for businesses, we cannot support a nearly 30 percent decrease in overall tourism marketing in 2009.
As City Council President Loui Antonucci wisely stated last week, "When times get tough, it's not a time to cut your advertising."
Lest we forget, Steamboat Springs is a sales tax-based economy. Until we as a community decide to switch to a property tax-based system, the city will remain in the tourism business. And as we've seen over the past decade, summer tourism is increasingly important to our economic health.
The money allocated to the Chamber each year for summer tourism marketing goes to event promotion, Web site maintenance, print and TV advertising in the Front Range and beyond, and seven-day-a-week staffing of the visitors center. The money from the city is not spent on Triple Crown, nor does it pay the salaries of the Chamber's full-time employees.
There are reasons beyond the struggling economy for why the city shouldn't significantly cut its tourism marketing in 2009.
The mountain pine beetle epidemic is affecting the landscapes of the Yampa Valley and beyond in ways we've never seen. The Rocky Mountain West is yet to see what impact the sea of dead and dying trees will have on summer tourism, but we can't afford to sit back and wait.
The future of Triple Crown also is uncertain, which simultaneously jeopardizes a source of reliable summer tourism revenue while also affording new opportunities for summer tourism growth.
Ski Time Square is being demolished, and construction will continue at the base area and downtown into the foreseeable future. Continuing to attract summer visitors despite some of the inconveniences posed by such redevelopment will remain important for years to come.
We are not alone as a resort market, and as the pool of potential tourists is squeezed by a number of uncontrollable factors, Steamboat Springs must continue to actively compete for visitors. And while the City Council has every right to determine an appropriate level of tourism marketing, until such an analysis is complete, the city cannot afford to further jeopardize potential sales tax revenues.