Our View: Recreation at a cost


Editorial Board, Sept. 25, 2011, to January 2012

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

We believe it is reasonable and prudent, in a time of austerity, for city of Steamboat Springs officials to take a fresh look at the level of subsidies being supplied to some of the community’s largest recreational venues. However, we are not optimistic that a combination of cost-saving measures and increased fees at Howelsen Hill Ski Area, Brent Romick Rodeo Arena, Howelsen Ice Arena, the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs and Haymaker Golf Course will make a meaningful dent in those subsidies. Several city officials close to the issue have acknowledged they do not expect those facilities to become self-sustaining.

“Will we get all those funds to match revenues with expenses?” Steamboat Springs City Council President Bart Kounovsky asked this month. “Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to continue trying to make them as efficient and customer-friendly as possible.”

City Council set out on the correct path in about 2009 when it pulled the budgets for the various recreation facilities out of its general fund budget so that it would be easier to analyze them for what they are and arrive at the appropriate level of subsidies. It was at that time they became enterprise funds.

Ironically, an enterprise fund, by definition, is one that is self-sustaining.

We’re also mindful that the business structures the city uses to operate those facilities each are different from the other. The Tennis Center and Haymaker are run by contractors. City employees run Howelsen Hill and the ice arena.

Of the bunch, Howelsen Hill, the oldest ski area west of the Mississippi, by far is provided the largest subsidy at a projected $660,000 in 2012.

With all those considerations in mind, we would ask the city to continue to look for fat in the budgets of those respective facilities but also to do more research to be as fair as possible to the recreation communities those represent.

One place to start might be to analyze the ratio of city subsidies for those facilities to their operating budgets. What percentage of the overall budget does the subsidy represent?

The city should attempt to generate a report on the level of subsidy per recreational visit at each facility. In dollars and cents, to what extent does the city subsidize each golfer, tennis player, ice skater and skier?

Just as enlightening would be to research what portion of the local populace never makes use of any of those facilities. We’d also be curious to know how well the city’s major recreational facilities are used by people who live outside the city limits (acknowledging that large numbers of folks living outside the city contribute to our sales tax revenue).

In the end, we suspect that the proper fiscal balance between spending city funds on the nuts and bolts of government — wastewater treatment and roads, for example — and luxuries like municipal ski areas and indoor skating arenas won’t be determined by a spreadsheet.

It’s natural for city department leaders to covet public monies for their particular mission. But this is a town that places a great deal of emphasis on quality of life. And that’s what Haymaker, Howelsen Hill, the ice arena and the Tennis Center all are about.

As Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the Steamboat Today:

“The citizens’ tax dollars have been invested in these entities. Truly, citizens’ desire to have them keeps them here. As long as citizens continue to support them with their tax dollar, they’ll continue to operate. But at the same time, we feel an obligation to reduce the drain on the citizens’ tax dollar to ensure they function as well as possible.”

If there are savings to be realized without unduly compromising the rink, the links, the hill and the ice, we’re all for it. But before the city prunes them too aggressively, it should arm itself with more data and ask its taxpayers how they feel about it.


sedgemo 5 years, 5 months ago

Included in this discussion should be some representation of the subsidized airfares we will soon be subject to, since the people flying in are just as free to use these recreational facilities as ski Mt. Werner. If funding for these places is cut, the presumption is being made that our taxes are subsidizing only one venue at the expense of the others. If we diminish the mix of recreational venues the attractions to travelers is also decreased. If we let them run down what does that do to our tourist industry? How happy will county residents be who keep paying for venues whose hours and options face continual cuts?


sledneck 5 years, 5 months ago

I just don't get it. How do you favor subsidies one minute and "fat-trimming" measures the next?


1999 5 years, 5 months ago

so it's okay to subsidise the Ski Corp but not Howelesen?



BeCoolHoneyBunny 5 years, 5 months ago

The difference between H.H. and the other three facilities is that the main user gets the biggest subsidy while paying the least. And yet this publication and city council does not address this issue at all. Instead they float the idea to increase revenue and efficiency without any real solutions. It's basically all lip service and nothing will really change.

Remember this editorial? Can you say Flip Flop? http://www.steamboattoday.com/news/20... "While flower baskets and barrels add only a couple thousand dollars to the city’s budget, Howelsen Hill represents a much more significant percentage of Steamboat’s overall expenditures. The city-owned ski area and park facility operates at an annual loss of between $750,000 and $1 million, depending on the year. Howelsen Hill is a sacred cow in the community, but it’s time to figure out how to get it in the black. During Tuesday’s all-day budget hearing, officials expressed willingness to address the significant annual subsidization of Howelsen Hill. Perhaps the answer comes in the form of a public-private partnership as envisioned for other previously city-funded services. But whatever the answer, it must come. The city, which has proven itself capable of making difficult budget decisions, cannot afford to continue to subsidize Howelsen Hill."


sedgemo 5 years, 5 months ago

YVB, mea culpa. Since I don't live in town I was not allowed to vote on the airline "empty seat" tax. It was me who called it a subsidy but I do not believe that was an incorrect use of the word. We are subsidizing flights, not ticket seat prices. See the first definition here:

sub·si·dy (sbs-d) n. pl. sub·si·dies 1. Monetary assistance granted by a government to a person or group in support of an enterprise regarded as being in the public interest. 2. Financial assistance given by one person or government to another. 3. Money formerly granted to the British Crown by Parliament.

My point was simply to suggest the tax should not be aimed at strictly supporting skiing on Mt. Werner only, as the people who fly in do use these other venues, which are facing scrutiny and a reduction in support.

Enjoy your holiday everyone... and maybe take your guests to Howelsen.


BeCoolHoneyBunny 5 years, 5 months ago

11/22/11 "If there are savings to be realized without unduly compromising the rink, the links, the hill and the ice, we’re all for it. But before the city prunes them too aggressively, it should arm itself with more data and ask its taxpayers how they feel about it."

10/8/11 "The city, which has proven itself capable of making difficult budget decisions, cannot afford to continue to subsidize Howelsen Hill."

Make up your mind Steamboat Today.


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