Steamboat Springs resident Ed Miklus warns voters to look closely at Referendum 2B , which would raise the city sales tax by 0.25 to pay for airline revenue guarantees, during a election forum Thursday night at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs resident Ed Miklus warns voters to look closely at Referendum 2B , which would raise the city sales tax by 0.25 to pay for airline revenue guarantees, during a election forum Thursday night at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Forum on Routt County election issues draws crowd

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Election 2011

Click here for complete coverage of this year's races and issues.

— A packed election forum at the Steamboat Springs Community Center on Thursday stayed crowded until the end — when supporters and opponents of a winter air service tax and medical marijuana businesses squared off on the same day many residents received their ballots in the mail.

Resident Ed Miklus provided the opposition to Referendum 2B, a proposed 0.25 percent sales tax increase that would supplement the winter air service program that helps bring jets into Yampa Valley Regional Airport throughout the ski season. He sat next to Resort Group President Mark Walker and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Senior Vice President of Marketing Rob Perlman, who represented the supporters of the air service tax.

Miklus told the more than 120 people at the forum that he supports the air service program, but he emphasized the importance of residents understanding a tax proposal that he called a “taxpayer bailout.”

“This is for you folks to decide,” said Miklus, a member of the city’s Tax Policy Advisory Board who said he wasn’t representing that or any other group. “Do you want to provide public funding to a private corporation? That’s the first issue. The second issue is, shouldn’t the users pay? Why should we pay?”

Walker, who also is a member of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association’s Board of Directors, said a winter air service task force worked for three months and considered different ideas before settling on a sales tax. He said other ideas included a fee at YVRA and an increase to the Local Marketing District lodging tax that voters approved in 2004. The air service program currently is funded by Ski Corp. and the LMD lodging tax, with a much smaller contribution coming from local businesses through the Fly Steamboat program.

“The reason that we settled on the 0.25 (percent sales tax) is because it’s equitable across the board,” Walker said. “Because everybody is affected and receives benefit in the quality of life we have in this valley through that.”

Perlman said the program created in 1986 peaked at 161,000 airline seats into YVRA during the 2007-08 season and fell to 118,000 seats last year, a 27 percent decline. During that time, he said airline costs continued to rise and will increase 30 percent for the upcoming ski season.

Passage of the sales tax would provide a $1.3 million annual boost to the LMD for five years, Perlman said. He said it wouldn’t reduce Ski Corp.’s obligation to the program.

Perlman said it would cost about $49 annually for the average Steamboat household and $20 a year per person during the course of the five-year tax. He said visitor spending generates 50 to 60 percent of the city’s sales tax revenue.

“It’s a small investment to make and a huge return,” Perlman said.

Miklus said research conducted by the Tax Policy Advisory Board indicated that visitors contribute about 35 percent to the city’s sales tax revenues, not 50 to 60 percent. He said the air service program provides more supply, but questioned what was being done to create demand.

“Seats don’t add to our economy,” he said. “It’s the visitors who fill those seats that add to our economy.”

Referendum 2B was one of three ballot measures addressed at the candidate forum sponsored by the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, the Routt County Democratic Party and the Routt County Republican Central Committee.

Medical marijuana

The final and perhaps most heated debate of the night was the one between Rocky Mountain Remedies co-owner Kevin Fisher and Dr. Kelly Victory about a proposed ban of medical marijuana businesses.

Fisher said medical marijuana would remain in the community regardless of whether voters ban the businesses that provide it.

“The question for this election is do we prefer to have this medicine dispensed in a heavily regulated lawful manner or do we prefer the production and sale of marijuana be driven to our neighborhoods and sold without any oversight,” he said.

Fisher also cited what he said were the positives of the industry, including the creation of dozens of local jobs and the contribution of millions to the local economy.

Victory, who co-founded a group to oppose local medical marijuana businesses, said the industry has increased drug use among youths and continues to damage Steamboat’s image. She said the medical marijuana industry has become a sham since voters approved the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions in 2000.

“Amendment 20 and the good intentions of the voters was co-opted to create a multi-million dollar industry to sell drugs to those who want it purely for recreational use,” Victory said. “Prior to 2009, Routt County had 12 registered medical marijuana cardholders. By May of this year, the number exploded to 1,143.”

Proposition 103

Steamboat Springs School Board Vice President Brian Kelly spoke in support of Proposition 103, a proposed increase of Colorado’s sales and income taxes to fund public education. Asked how voters can be assured the money Proposition 103 would generate — an estimated $2.9 billion over five years — will make it to schools in Routt County, Kelly said no matter how the revenue is distributed, schools will be better off financially than they were last year. He said without additional revenue next year, class sizes in Steamboat’s elementary schools could increase from an average of 23 students to 26 or 27 students next year.

“Never have I seen an approaching crisis like the one we’re looking at right now,” Kelly said. Proposition 103 “will offset the upcoming cuts we will likely see in the next year.”

Chuck McConnell, chairman of the Routt County Republican Central Committee, spoke against the tax measure.

“It’s a tax that will affect everyone in this room,” he said. “It’s coming at a time when unemployment nationally is at 9.1 percent, and it will decrease the amount of money everyone in this room will have to spend on the goods and services they need.”

He also said voters should oppose Proposition 103 because it does not guarantee the increased revenues it collects will be given to public schools.

“There are ways to solve the problems we have with the educational quality in this state without raising taxes,” he said.

— Scott Franz contributed to this article

— To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

Election Guide 2011

Comments

Solo 2 years, 6 months ago

Seven years ago the proponents of the Winter Airline Guarantee Program (WAGP) told us that the LMD would solve the problem of funding this program. Now they are back asking the taxpayers of Steamboat Springs to pony upadditional tax dollars for another five years. The Ski Corp receives 24% of spending generated by the WAGP and they fund 50% of the cost, that is admirable. The other direct beneficiaries of the program, lodging (44% recipient of tourist spending) and food and drink (19%), contribute little to nothing to the program. Why do the Ski Corp’s partners refuse to help with this funding? Instead they spend $15,000 on a survey that shows 65% of the City’s residents oppose this tax proposal. Then City Council, out of touch with the electorate, puts this on the ballot at the last minute, rather than asking the proponents to bring this measure to ballot via a petition. Now the proponents spend tens of thousands of dollars to spew out inaccurate information trying to convince you that what is good for them, must be good for you. Figures supplied by the Ski Corp, the Chamber, the City Finance Dept., the Tax Policy Advisory Board and CDOT verify these inaccuracies. Available seats are down by 29% and costs are up 30%. If this trend continues, what makes the proponents think that more money will yield more seats? I guess that does not matter as they would not be paying for it. The only things the Winter Airline Guarantee Program ¼% sales tax guarantees is that the airlines will make a profit and you will pay more in taxes.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 6 months ago

And further, what is Ski Corp doing internally to market our mountain so perhaps even the EXISTING flights will have increased loads? Certainly not by RAISING prices on passes and daily lift tickets without improving on mountain facilities and a finished base area. The bottom line is the largest group of skiers, the baby boomers come for a week and maybe ski 3 or 4 of the 7 days unlike when they were in their 20's, 30's and 40's when they skied all 7 days. I applaud Council for funding summer marketing because frankly, that is where our tourism future lies under the current thinking shown by this ownership group of ski corp. I am sorry, it just makes me so sad for our community . . . . . . . .

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Ryan Fisher 2 years, 6 months ago

The winter of '10/'11 saw the 2nd most skier visits in Steamboat's history. First was '07/'08 when the economy peaked and everyone had money. A lot of the candidates harped on the lack of marketing last night, but it seems like it's under control if we can pull those numbers in the midst of the current economic climate.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 6 months ago

3pr-- If that is true, do we really need additional airline support? And, wouldn't ski corp be bragging about that fact instead of bemoaning the fact that all the taxpayers need to support their PRIVATE business? We are not like other ski resorts in that we have a much more diverse economy and a smaller % of the local/county residents rely on the tourists. I totally agree with SOLO. The businesses that can track their bottom line to the coat tails of ski corp need to be paying the piper, NOT the taxpayer!!!!!!

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seeuski 2 years, 6 months ago

@solo has it right, chasing your tail with taxpayer money is no different then the Obama model which yields no results. Vote accordingly in 2012 and the economy will come back, but don't give into the increased tax base as they never give it back, not in good times or bad.

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Ryan Fisher 2 years, 6 months ago

Cindy, That's my point... and you can check the Chamber's numbers to corroborate my claims. I don't think we need to subsidize the airlines. What we need to do is attract the younger generation, who will convince their parents that this year they need to go to Steamboat, instead of Vail, Breck, Aspen, etc. Build a few more terrain parks, and watch the dollars roll in. The baby boomers that have been coming here are great and we need to keep them too, but the future is fresh legs and knees.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 6 months ago

Thanks, 3pr--So until changes are made on the mountain, no need to increase flights because skiers/boarders will not be coming to our "tired" mountain anyway. I guess ski corp wants all taxpayers to pay for empty seats so they have more money to improve the mountain??????? HEY SKI CORP---that is not our job, man!!!!

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cindy constantine 2 years, 6 months ago

A Question for the overseer at the paper of the posters--

I understand why the paper can and should delete certain comments which are not appropriate for public viewing. However several comments were just deleted that had been up for several hours and I believe a statement from the paper is warranted such as: the posters' statements were not verified by a third party and therefore unverifiable OR there is an on going police investigation and we were asked to delete all references to the incident.

Something along those lines to justify the deletion of the comments which did not appear to be defaming anyone but were an observation by an onlooker.

Thank you

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vanguy 2 years, 6 months ago

It seems to me that the success of tourism benefits a lot more businesses and jobs than just the Ski Corp and the Lodging Companies. Yet, more than 95% of air service funding has come solely from these two groups up to this point.

Most people I know who live in Steamboat (and actually work for a living) seem to understand the direct connection between their paychecks and the dollars spent by tourists.

This culture is why Steamboat has such a great reputation for hospitality, when compared to other mountain destinations. This culture is why visitors come back for repeat visits.

As a community, let us NEVER lose sight of the fact that the paying traveler has a choice whether or not to visit Steamboat. It also never hurts for locals to remind Ski Corp. of this fact every once in awhile.

Air service is our lifeline as a resort community.

If it is a pain in the A$$ to get here, there are certainly more convenient destinations for people to take a ski vacation.

Non-rental second homeowners and timeshare resorts like Wyndham don't contribute any LMD tax revenue because there isn't a lodging transaction involved. Yet, these two sub-groups alone consume hundreds of air seats every week.

And how many VRBO rentals aren't paying their lodging taxes?? The city could make a small fortune investigating this issue...but I digress.

I believe the 2B Tax is a great way for non-rental tourists to contribute to air our service, especially those that use the service and don't currently help pay for it.

Me, personally, I'm voting for 2B.

I admittedly waste at least $20 every week on stupid stuff I really don't need.

I'd gladly give this community $20 a year to help secure air service, if it means that me and my friends will continue to have jobs, maybe even experience some career growth someday.

I'd gladly give this community $20 if it means our businesses can afford to stay open year-round.

Most importantly, I'd gladly give this community $20 so that, as my parents get older, and travel becomes more difficult for them, there is still a convenient and affordable way for them to fly to Hayden and visit their grandchildren from time to time.

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seeuski 2 years, 6 months ago

I think someone posted some accusations as if they were fact. That may have put the Pilot in a libelous situation, just a guess. Pot tends to make some people crazy like that.

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Bill Dalzell 2 years, 6 months ago

Maybe a bit like the Pauvert stuff you posted seeuski. Your facts did not pass fact check.

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arshouse 2 years, 6 months ago

why aren't county residents allowed to vote on 2b? this is obviously an issue that affects everyone that lives in this valley, as we all spend money here and would be affected by the tax. also, the majority of county residents work in steamboat and will be directly affected by the outcome of this referendum.

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bubba 2 years, 6 months ago

Because you live in the county, not the city.

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Scott Ford 2 years, 6 months ago

Hi Arshouse – Since the tax is only collected on transactions that occur within the city limits of Steamboat Springs only residents of Steamboat Springs get to vote. So essentially, once again Steamboat Springs' residents gets to dictate to our fellow Routt County residents how it is going to be. Not entirely fair I know – but fairness has very little to do with discussion.

According to the 2010 census there are 5,201households within the city limits of Steamboat Springs. This simply means that of all the households in Routt County (9,892) Steamboat Springs’ represents 53% of them. 47% of the households that will be impacted will have absolutely no say. No Taxation without representation is a theoretic ideal – not a reality in Routt County.

The .25% tax could have been proposed county wide. It would have had to go through the Routt County Commissioners to be placed on the ballot instead of Steamboat Springs City Council. In addition, that would leave the tax collected on groceries on the table – that is too big of a prize to pass by.

Although a county wide approach would have been a much more “democratic” way – that strategy would have likely have doomed the referendum’s passage. The Yes on 2B Committee has a big enough challenge convincing the residents of Steamboat Springs to vote “Yes”. You can see evidence of this by the amount of money that is being spent. The challenge to get the entire county of vote “Yes” would have been way too troublesome.

If the citizens of Steamboat Springs vote at about the same level of participation as the last odd year election (2009) we can expect about 3,100 folks to vote. At $35,000 thus far contributed to the Yes on 2B campaign – that is almost $11.30 per vote and climbing. This is making it one of the most expensive per vote campaigns we have seen locally.

County residents can vote with their feet. How many will shift their shopping patterns? The folks in Hayden already go to Craig. Changing shopping patterns is fun to bluster about but for .25% - resulting in a change in shopping patterns is highly doubtful.

This song by the WHO from 1971 says it all. (I date myself) / I think it is the perfect accompaniment music to complete our mail in ballots by. Hey - Turn your speakers up its Friday afternoon!

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 6 months ago

Well, it is small fraction of the Yes on SB 700 campaign They ended up spending around $100 per yes vote. And they lost badly.

I think if this wins that The Chamber and Ski Corps will then find itself under an unwelcomed high level of scrutiny The Chamber has promised 44,000 additional tourists spending an additional $44M a year locally.

Well, what happens when reality does not meet their promises? City Council has made it clear that the 3% which was the vendor fee prior to City taking over sales tax collection is Citty of SS money which it chooses to give. So, when the expanded flight subsidies fail to deliver then City Council will feel the need to get involved and supervise public funds. And while they cannot take back the sales tax money, they can certainly make the 3% dependent upon openness and oversight. And it is certainly an easy political argument to make that $1+M of sales tax plus $500+K of discretional spending deserves public oversight and openness.

Thus, Chamber certainly covets the sales tax money, but by their excessive promises then they will not get it for long without a whole lot of city government involvement.

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rhys jones 2 years, 6 months ago

Now that you brought up SB700, I have the flimsiest excuse to participate in this discussion, previously enjoying this tete-a-tete from the sidelines. I have no viewpoint to espouse or support, just a barely-related observation.

Our readers may recall Mr. Wheeler the other day, who had a hammer. His family lived out on 44 when the SB700 developers came to town. They sold out, making millions. Matt will never be worried about money again. Especially in the near future.

Those Wheeler boys always were excitable... As you were.

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