Fiscal neutrality and Steamboat 700
Striking balance between public benefit and fiscal impact is no easy task.
Craig Editorial Board, July 2009 to September 2009
- Bryce Jacobson, newspaper representative
- Joshua Roberts, newspaper representative
- Collin Smith, newspaper representative
- Kim McMurtrey, community representative
- Doris Zimmerman, community representative
- Nancy Hettinger, community representative
Steamboat Springs Tuesday's Steamboat Springs City Council discussion and ultimate acceptance of a fiscal impact model for Steamboat 700 illustrates a fundamental problem with the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan and the goal of fiscal neutrality. In our effort to protect existing residents from bearing any financial burden related to west Steamboat development and annexation, we are in danger of creating an adjacent, second-class community where our work force is expected to find attainable housing while being taxed at double the rate for that opportunity.
Further, the very affordability of homes in Steamboat 700 is affected by the increased tax rate that will be imposed on residents and businesses there. And if attainable housing is one of, if not the most, significant public benefits and goals of west Steamboat development, perhaps the community needs to be willing to bear some of the costs of such growth.
The City Council has demonstrated a commitment to making sure Steamboat 700 achieves fiscal neutrality. On Tuesday, during a discussion of the proposed master-planned community's operational fiscal impact, Councilwoman Meg Bentley made a motion to reject the impact model on the grounds that it showed an annual operating deficit of about $50,000 at build-out. Councilman Steve Ivancie seconded the motion before Steamboat 700 attorney Bob Weiss jumped in with a proposal: an additional metro district tax for Steamboat 700 residents that would raise $50,000 a year once build-out was complete. The council unanimously approved the proposal.
At face value, the additional tax burden for future Steamboat 700 residents seems appropriate, if not deserved. But taken in the context of the mounting taxes facing those residents, it raises serious questions about whether the goal of fiscal neutrality runs counter to one of the fundamental goals of west Steamboat growth - namely, the creation of attainable and affordable housing for our work force. As the demands placed on the developers increase, that goal becomes less and less achievable.
When the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan was updated in 2006, one of the primary goals was to ensure the plan was in fact achievable - particularly as it relates to the creation of affordable and attainable housing. But one of the plan's other key goals sets up an inherent conflict: to "ensure that the fiscal impacts on the citizens of Steamboat Springs are minimized and the benefits to the community are commensurate with or greater than the costs to the community."
How, as a community, do we quantify the benefits of affordable and attainable housing? Most Steamboat Springs residents agree that the community's character is one of its most appealing attributes. That character is grounded in our small-town feel and the fact many of our teachers, food servers, police officers and store clerks, for example, work and live within city limits. A common fear shared by residents here is that Steamboat will become the next Aspen or Vail, where exorbitant home prices and limited growth areas have pushed the working class down valley. The result is less vibrant towns and increased sprawl and traffic.
We certainly don't want to put the noose around the necks of existing city residents, but we, as a community, must consider the ultimate goal of smart, planned growth, and whether our reluctance to foot the bill for any of it jeopardizes exactly what we hope to preserve.