Jobs, economy top City Council's priority list

Officials cite budget, housing, annexation in goal-setting session


Top priorities

In a Tuesday night retreat, Steamboat Springs City Council members cast votes for their top priorities as city leaders. The top seven topics included:

Six votes

■ Economic development & job creation

■ Budget analysis, including how and when to end the city furlough program and how to better fund capital improvement projects

Five votes

■ Annexation, including traffic and housing issues, with special attention to growth and community planning if the Steamboat 700 annexation goes before voters and is rejected

■ Consolidation of city fire services, and of city water with the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District. Council asked city staff to provide information about the feasibility of such consolidations.

Four votes

■ Affordable housing. How best to move forward, defining “attainable” housing as opposed to “affordable,” and exploration of options for the Iron Horse Inn.

Three votes

■ Tax structure. Spearheaded by Councilman Jon Quinn, council agreed to potentially revive a tax policy advisory committee that would analyze the city’s tax structure and examine other revenue sources, such as a property tax.

■ Ski Time Square. How to revitalize it, how to stimulate business, and increased involvement with the Urban Redevelopment Area Advisory Committee.

— Job creation and economic development topped the Steam­boat Springs City Council’s list of priorities in a goal-setting session Tuesday night.

In a public meeting with city administrators in Centennial Hall, City Council members held a wide-ranging, open conversation about what issues should be on the table in the months ahead. Also high on the priority list were an analysis of the city budget, including goals of eventually ending the furlough program for city staff and solidifying funding for capital improvement projects; addressing annexation and community plans for growth, depending on the outcome of a likely public vote early next year on the Steamboat 700 annexation; and exploring the possibility of consolidating city fire services, and of uniting city water services with the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District. Establishing how to move forward with affordable housing efforts, examining the city’s tax structure and working to revitalize Ski Time Square rounded out the list.

The uncertainty of Steamboat 700 loomed over comments by several City Council members. The annexation proposes about 2,000 homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial space just west of current city limits. The previous City Council approved the annexation in October, but after a successful citizen-led petition effort last month, the current council will decide Dec. 15 whether to repeal the approval or put it to a public vote.

Council comments Tuesday indicated that a public vote is a foregone conclusion. Council President Cari Hermacinski said the result of an election on Steamboat 700 could change city policies and priorities.

“If it’s not approved, we need to quickly start working on … how to accommodate growth in our communities,” Hermacinski said.

City Manager Jon Roberts ec­­hoed that sentiment, saying that should voters reject Steamboat 700, “we do have some work to do on our community plan.”

One thing certain for next year, council members agreed, is the need for heightened efforts to reach out to local businesses and discuss ways to boost the local economy and stimulate job creation. Roberts said efforts in that vein are under way — his office is meeting weekly with a local business to hear ideas about how to improve the economic climate. Roberts is meeting with representatives of SmartWool today.

Councilman Jon Quinn said goals such as affordable housing and capital project funding can be better achieved with an examination of the city’s tax structure.

“We’re one of few municipalities in Colorado that does not have a property tax,” Quinn said. “I think for us not to prioritize our revenue streams would be an oversight. … We’re really a one-trick pony when it comes to our revenue source.”

Council members agreed to discuss city tax revenues further, possibly in a work session, and potentially revive a tax policy advisory committee to conduct an in-depth study of city revenue streams and additional revenue sources, such as a property tax.

The City Council likely will take on the full slate of goals in fewer meetings in 2010 — only two City Council meetings are scheduled each month next year. Hermacinski said the reduced number of meetings would give city staff more time to serve the public, as opposed to preparing for council meetings, and keep the commitment more manageable for citizen legislators. Council members also could benefit from spending more time interacting with the community, she said.

“If we have five extra hours on our hands, we should be going out and talking to constituents, or constituent groups,” Hermacinski said.


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