The proposal to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and replace it with a police and fire station was met with mixed reviews by Steamboat Springs City Council members at their Tuesday meeting.

Photo by John F. Russell

The proposal to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and replace it with a police and fire station was met with mixed reviews by Steamboat Springs City Council members at their Tuesday meeting.

Steamboat Springs City Council divided on Iron Horse demolition

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Reader poll

Do you support the city's proposal to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and build a new police station at that location?

  • Yes, getting rid of the Iron Horse is a great idea. 28%
  • No, I prefer the plan to build a public safety complex in west Steamboat. 38%
  • No, the fire and police stations should remain on Yampa Street. 22%
  • I like the idea, but it's too expensive. 7%
  • I haven't made up my mind. 6%

810 total votes.

— The city of Steamboat Springs' proposal to demolish the Iron Horse Inn and replace it with a 15,000-square-foot police station got mixed reviews Tuesday night from the Steamboat Springs City Council.

The council endorsed the city's greater plan to move its police and firefighting stations out of 840 Yampa St. and replace the emergency services there with local outdoor retailers Big Agnes, Honey Stinger and BAP.

But four council members were critical of the city's desire to start that process by demolishing the Iron Horse and building a new police headquarters on the riverfront site off U.S. Highway 40.

At the end of a lengthy discussion, the council decided to take some more time to weigh the proposal and consider an alternative plan from the city next month.

“To go out on this and head to this spot (at the Iron Horse Inn), I think, is misguided,” council member Kenny Reisman said.

He added that he would prefer for the city to construct a combined fire and police headquarters west of downtown near the Stock Bridge Transit Center, an option the city revealed as its second choice behind the Iron Horse proposal.

Council members Sonja Macys, Walter Magill and Kevin Kaminski also criticized the plan to demolish the Iron Horse.

They argued it was not the ideal location for a police station and questioned whether it was wise to pay for the $7 million project with reserve funds.

They also wondered whether the city instead could sell the hotel in the future, an option city staff said would be unfavorable because the sale still would lose the city millions of dollars.

Despite the criticism, city officials still are holding out hope they eventually could move forward with the plan and earn the support of a majority of the council.

Magill said he could change his mind when the city returns to council next month with a more in-depth presentation of the plan and an alternative one to construct a public safety campus adjacent to Stock Bridge.

“I'm going to finish pulling together all of the loose ends,” Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark said after the meeting in response to the council's criticism of the proposal. “I think that I'm hearing the Iron Horse is still a possibility. I heard some waffling, so I think it's still alive.”

Hinsvark and other city officials are looking to jump-start a revitalization effort on Yampa Street by moving the police and fire stations out of the downtown location.

Officials also are working to give the police department more room to operate in and eliminate public safety hazards created when emergency vehicles enter the pedestrian-heavy Yampa Street.

Hinsvark said Tuesday night that the city thinks the Iron Horse is the best site to relocate the police station.

“This is a decision that has been a long time coming,” she told the council, adding that the city now has spent a year looking for ways to relocate the fire and police departments out of downtown. “We've done our due diligence on this project.”

The plan to sign off on the sale and move the police station to the Iron Horse had strong support from council President Bart Kounovsky and members Cari Hermacinski and Scott Myller.

Kounovsky called the plan financially prudent.

“We've saved and saved and saved, and now we're going to do something with those savings,” Kounovsky said. “I think it's a conservative way to approach this rather than going out to raise some sort of debt.”

Hinsvark estimated it would cost about $7 million to replace the aging motel with the police station, and the move would prevent the city from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace the roof on one of the buildings and regrade the "sinking" parking lot.

The city would pay for the relocation of the police station with unallocated reserve funds and the proceeds from the sale of the public safety building on Yampa Street, a building that Big Agnes has offered to purchase for $2.1 million.

The local outdoor retailer plans to establish its corporate headquarters in the building with Honey Stinger and BAP.

The Iron Horse proposal is a shift from the city's previous request to ask voters to help fund with a property tax increase a new $19.5 million public safety complex in west Steamboat.

But the city could end up going west after all.

Hinsvark said the combined fire and police headquarters near Stock Bridge would cost $10 million with a two-man firehouse or $10.75 million for an eight-man fire house.

The city still hasn't decided what type of firefighting presence it would need in the new building.

Hinsvark said the Stock Bridge proposal also would be funded from reserves.

In other action, the City Council:

• Heard the findings of a $15,000 study the city commissioned to look at Yampa Street and how it can be revitalized. James DeFrancia, the chairman of the panel of Urban Land Institute planners who met with stakeholders in July to discuss how Yampa can be revitalized, told the council now is the time to invest in the roadway's transformation.

“We think it's time to get started,” he said.

He said the city can invest in low-cost projects such as improved sidewalks and lighting in the near term and tackle other recommendations, such as the creation of more river access points, as long-term projects.

Other recommendations from the Urban Land Institute included the use of paid parking downtown, shared lanes for bikes and cars and the creation of public-private partnerships to help fund the revitalization efforts.

A group of downtown stakeholders has formed to help pursue and fund the improvements.

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs is seeking funding from the city's 1 percent lodging tax to revitalize the Yampa Street.

• Voted unanimously to award a new three-year contract to Jim Swiggart to continue to operate the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.

Swiggart's contract with the city was set to expire at the end of the month.

Among other things, the new contract will not require the concessionaire to pay a concession fee to the city that has averaged $25,000 annually. Instead, the concessionaire will be responsible for all gas and utility costs, which Swiggart estimates to be about $57,500 a year. Swiggart previously was responsible for paying 15 percent of the Tennis Center's annual gas and utility bills.

“The new agreement will net the city, on average, $13,000 more than the previous contract,” city officials wrote in their proposal to City Council.

Swiggart said the city will net significantly more than $13,000 a year from the new contract because the annual utilities bill to be paid by him will amount to more than double the $25,000 concessionaire fee he used to be required to pay.

• Voted, 4-3, to offer 81 tenants of the West Acres Mobile Home Park $82,000 to end the tenants' lawsuit against the city for the loss of a greenbelt the city condemned to build a Gloria Gossard Parkway.

Assistant City Attorney Dan Foote said the settlement would “avoid the small chance of a large adverse verdict” that potentially could cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars if the case went to an appeals court.

Cari Hermacinski, who opposed the settlement along with council members Scott Myller and Walter Magill, said the settlement was a “pretty expensive insurance policy" in the wake of a court decision that favored the city.

District Court Judge Shelley Hill recently ruled that the homeowners could not seek legal fees from the city and that their homes are personal property not real estate, so they are not eligible for damages under condemnation law.

Prior to that ruling, the homeowners were seeking $400,000 from the city. The city countered with a $40,000 settlement offer.

Hermacinski questioned why the city's new settlement was higher than it was before the homeowners received an unfavorable court ruling.

In supporting the settlement, council member Kenny Reisman said it was time for the city to “close the book” on the case.

• Heard a presentation from the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association about the success of its 2012 summer marketing campaign and how it plans to build on that success during its 2013 campaign.

Marketing Director Kara Givnish told the council that despite the challenges of marketing Steamboat during a devastating wildfire season in Colorado, the 2012 campaign was successful and helped increase lodging and sales tax collections during the summer months.

She said the Chamber, which received $600,000 in city funds for the campaign, also greatly increased its number of Facebook and Twitter followers and found success hosting several journalists in Steamboat during familiarization trips.

To aid in the 2013 campaign, she said the Chamber is preparing to launch a new website. 

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

“We've saved and saved and saved, and now we're going to do something with those savings,” Kounovsky said.

Yep, that is exactly why SB government buys things like the Iron Horse, or remodels the Bob Adams airport terminal and the other grand wastes of money. That they think they have the ability to spend money creates an overwhelming need to spend it.

How is it that we went from a tight city budget that may have to cut services and a need to build up reserves to be prepared to handle a crisis to suddenly having so much money that it can be spent to "revitalize" Yampa St?

And somehow, having police and fire services in the middle of downtown where the people and businesses are located becomes a bad thing? The excuse is that sometime in the future the street will be so packed with pedestrians that it could impair responding to emergency calls? Who is making this up? Well, city staff is, but why is anyone believing it?

I suppose the base area redevelopment project has been so successful at turning things around up there with all the new construction on the vacant lots up there that now the city is turning it's attention to Yampa St to have the same effect there.

Does anyone not in city government believe that the police and fire station on Yampa St is what is stopping further commercial development? There are plenty of vacant lots for sale along the street. We are supposed to believe the nearby police and fire station is what is stopping investors? The little detail that there are vacancies on Lincoln Ave and rents are down has no effect on the economics of developing along Yampa St? It is considered a triumph that Honey Stinger is willing to buy the existing building for what other properties for sale suggest is a fair price for the lot? Yeah, this is the city of SB doing real estate and they'll thrown in the building for free. Just like the city of SB doing real estate when buying the Iron Horse and paying as if those buildings were brand new.

I should know that it is only money and city council needs to spend it so they can have a building with a plaque immortalizing their names.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

Okay, I am confused. The Police Station moves to the Iron Horse site for $7,000,000. But the downtown fire station also needs to move out of downtown. Where will it be built and what are the projected costs for that facility? Will the combination of these two separate locations amount to the same cost as the $10,000,000 that Deb projects for building a combined campus on the west side? Aren't there some "economies-of-scale" having one location to cover both needs? And why aren't we looking at the many vacant sites between the town and mountain if moving to the west side is so distasteful?

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 1 month ago

I attended the hearing, which made for a clearer understanding of the parts. I do not understand why, but the obvious goal is to pull the trigger on selling the existing Yampa St. public safety building. The City manager had one comment, "we need to confirm a continuing interest in selling that property to Big Agnes." He made no other comment.

I COMPLETELY disagree with Deb Hinsvark's statement, “This is a decision that has been a long time coming... We've done our due diligence on this project.” This proposal is less than a week old, and it is the only presentation the public has seen on this matter.

What is dumbfounding is the LACK of diligence. I'm glad I attended. After council and staff traded questions on the material and moved to public comment, they apparently needed a bystander to point out that their budget projections did not provide Steamboat with a fire department.

Sonja asked why the Yampa property was not listed for sale in a conventional listing with an agent. Staff's response was they did not want the expense of a realtor. Better to lose 30% on the appraised value of $3 million?

Diligence? That is not what I saw. If there is diligence, it is to some other agenda. The taxpayers and future budgets are getting screwed.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

I feel I must repeat a comment I made on a previous thread. I appreciate that we have a council of diverse economic and occupational backgrounds, but why do they look out for their best interests when their private citizen hats are on and act like bureaucrats when they sit in "chambers"!!! Having been involved in a few design/build projects in a previous life, why are we not looking to the private sector to build/own a fire/police facility and RENT it back to the city. The bidding process from the private sector with imput from the heads of the safety departments, will provide a much less expensive, and better built campus. Once the city identifies the site they want, let the private sector take the risk. Does Council even read the Wall Street Journal or listen to business news? Do they not know that there are Billions and Billions of $$$ on the sideline waiting for a long term, safe investment??? The City needs to be out of the real estate business as much as possible!!! As for the money in reserves, you will never find private investors interested in repaving streets, rebuilding bridges, burying power lines, maintaining city owned parks, etc, etc etc. Come on council can you please THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. And frankly if we continue talking about the Iron Horse ad nauseum for the next 5 years when another 2 million has been wasted, we will be very sorry we don't take the hit now and move on down the road!!

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Peter Arnold 2 years, 1 month ago

To Scott's comments

"And somehow, having police and fire services in the middle of downtown where the people and businesses are located becomes a bad thing? The excuse is that sometime in the future the street will be so packed with pedestrians that it could impair responding to emergency calls? Who is making this up? Well, city staff is, but why is anyone believing it?"

I agree, a presence downtown for the police department is probably a good idea but why not a small one on Main Street where our visitors and residents can step in for help when needed. Moving there main site to another location makes sense when you consider the factors of a growing need for more patrol and quicker access to 40 to respond in the Mountain area or Town. Think about this one for a second and then get back to us all.

Second point, about the packed pedestrian issue. Have you ever even left your computer when there is anything actually happening downtown? Ever been on Yampa before the parades? Do you know what is even going on around here?

Think outside your box friend...I do agree though on the fair market value issue of the property being sold.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 1 month ago

Cindy, I don't understand it either. Perhaps it is an echo chamber thing. Residents are not engaging with the City agenda like I remember 6 or 8 years ago. The new update of the Area Plan has seen 129 respondents to date on it's current phase of engagement. Maybe they don't see much of everyman at City Hall anymore?

I attended some planning commission code considerations months back, and each time was the sole citizen attendee. Each time the votes were unanimous. Perhaps that is also the echo chamber of the selection filter. Or maybe I'm just that far out in left field?

There is some awareness of a disconnect. One of City Council, Kevin Kaminski, expressed amazement the room was not packed with people upset about the expense of this. The Council president on the other hand was hoping to see a revised proposal approved at the next hearing.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

Thanks Lewi!! I was working until 6:30 and was unable to attend, but in hindsight I should have just shown up late. With this kind of "back-door dealing" we have no one to blame but ourselves if we do not show up and be heard!! The first Iron Horse deal really stinks now this latest twist seems on the outside to be equally as bad. As Scott has stated in many previous threads, expensive decisions like this should not be made unless it is put to a vote---hence an additional case for a mayor to oversee the Council!! I do not think Scott, Cari nor Bart will be able to force this down our throats with the other 4 concerned and skeptical. And as Peter states, who knows what the highest and best use of the property is unless it is listed on the open market without backdoor dealings. BTW is the Search and Rescue garage across the street part of the deal as well? BAP is a wonderful company but that location does not lend itself as a manufacturing, shipping or product development location. Based on the proposed redo of Yampa Street, that location is best suited for retail, restaurant, residential usage IMHO.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

Steve, Why was the room not packed with people upset over the costs?

Well, I had no idea that they had reached the point where the believed they had committed to a sale to Big Agnes and were prepared to make a final decision on moving to Iron Horse.

The first article on the subject was just a few days ago and told the story of Cari having the idea of moving the police station into the existing Iron Horse and staff instead felt it would be cheaper to demolish and rebuild. That article suggested they were still looking for ideas, and had not reached the point of being ready to make a final decision.

If the City Council had approved that decision last night then they would have had a big crowd at the next meeting and probably petitions to overturn their reckless decisions.

And yes, I have been on Yampa St and there are often people about. But not the sort of crowds that would have troubles moving out of the way of a fire truck responding to an emergency. I grew up in a city where the police and fire stations were located on major streets so they could immediately connect to other connecting streets to minimize their response times.

Yampa St is hardly too busy of a street for police or fire stations.

I think I see a pattern of City Finance director presenting plans expecting immediate decisions with minimal public notice. This strikes me as awfully similar as the previous city staff pay raise fiasco of a decision being made just as the public was starting to learn there was an issue to be considered.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 1 month ago

Cindy, There was something posted offering the site for sale. But not in a conventional listing where a buyer would normally expect it. I'm trying to remember if it was the City page? They didn't say the time frame or text of that notice. Sonja raised the question because she subsequently got a call from an interested potential buyer who was disappointed to miss the notice.

I attended that hearing for three agenda items, but what I saw on this one is impossible to put behind me. Imagine watching a City Council and the top members of our City staff, including the current and former finance directors, peruse a multi year impact of this project on reserves. Their budget takes in the sale proceeds of the current fire and police facility. It pays for the next police facility. But nowhere in that budget is there accounting for the next fire facility.

As bystanders, you put your finger on it, and I was there that night to do the same from the podium. But it bothers me a lot that 3 City Councilors, one a corporate CFO, and our top 3 members of City staff were ready to pull the trigger on this multi-million dollar fiscal mistake.

I cannot not fathom such comprehensive ineptness in our City's governance, both by staff and part of Council. Several of the Councilors were plainly concerned about the information presented. It happens to be the same who expressed concern months earlier about the quality of our City's management. I hope they are able to do something about it.

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John St Pierre 2 years, 1 month ago

there seems to be this pattern of an article in the Pilot then the coucil meets and its almost a done deal..... the City employee's raises... that meeting was pack with city employee's... how did they know and the rest of the city did not... theres a discussion about Iron Horse and a "thought" suddenly its on the verge of a done deal?????

A new police station triggers a new Fire Station shortly thereafter.....any major City project should have several Public hearings and discussions where there is discourse..... the facts should be prepared in advance and available with sufficient time for public review.... The sale of the city property would be great for the city... but bad for the property owners that Big Agnes currently leases... this rush to do something w/ Yampa is interesting but what does that do for Lincoln and all the current empty spaces???? I would like to now what the real agenda here is....??????

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

The Big Agnes property sale is such a deal that a grand jury should investigate to be sure it was not the result of corruption. Purchase price picked today well under appraised value in a recovering real estate market for a sale that doesn't complete for years. By the time the sale is completed then appraised value will probably be between $3.5M and $4M.

The lack of MLS listing should be investigated. Some states have had court rulings that failing to list a property in MLS is, by itself, a failure in fiduciary responsibility to get the best price because, by definition, it fails to offer the property to all interested buyers.

Meanwhile, if the real estate market collapses then Big Agnes could always find a way to walk away from the deal.

One would hoped that after the Iron Horse fiasco that the City of Steamboat Springs would have learned that hasty, secretive real estate transactions are a really bad idea. Instead they nearly made a decision that would have absorbed the cost of Iron Horse and then cost several times more that in new construction.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

Many concerned and valid points made in these comments. Perfect "fodder" for a column by Rob. I believe Council reads these blogs and hopefully are taking notes. If anyone wants to meet prior to the next meeting let me know because I am all over it. We must talk with our neighbors about this coming major expense and get as many as we can to attend the next Council meeting---unless of course reason prevails and Council decides to do some needed due diligence in the public eye before acting rashly!!!

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Peter Arnold 2 years, 1 month ago

It's sad to see how little public input is being offered based on the empty city council meetings where such large transactions with legal ramifications are being discussed. The council was elected by the public to act in their best interest. If they are not doing that it is time for a morality check and hopefully each and every one of the members will take the time to consider how their actions are going to be perceived before they act. Be transparent, act in the best interest of the people you represent and their, not your, tax dollars. Then, say what you will do and then do what you say. The process is starting to have an odor about it. Clean it up and act in good faith of those who elected you. Do the next right thing. Stop creating controversy where none is needed. This is an opportunity to show everyone that you can do just that. You have a chance to quell this discussion by listening to reason and acting on it.

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Fred Duckels 2 years, 1 month ago

It will be fortunate if the Iron Horse deal averts a huge loss. I don't know the answers but it seems that we are always thinking big with taxpayer dollars and the need to make progress. Wheeling and dealing may work out, but at the present we can most likely live with the present facilities.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

As someone that often goes to government board meetings, I will say that it can be extremely frustrating and feel like a complete waste of time. You can spend hours waiting for the item of your concern, ask pertinent questions about the topic and have the board completely ignore your questions. I think most boards view public meetings as a chance for the public to learn what they have decided. Most boards do not consider public meetings as a place to receive input from the public and answer those concerns.

The problem starts in how most boards organize their agenda. The agenda is organized for the convenience of the board and staff, not for the public. If the agenda was organized for the public then it would the items of public concern first and not boring board business. If the agenda was organized for the public then it would be a schedule. Spending all evening at a board meeting waiting for whenever they plan on reaching the desired topic does not encourage public participation. I've sat there while the board has a long boring call with an auditor explaining every item and how he does audits. None of the citizens there came to hear that. So the public is supposed to sit and wait for 90 minutes or so until items of public concern.

The problem continues in that most boards are so willing to ignore what the public says. As if the public is happy to have their comments in the public record as compared to making a serious effort to answer their questions. Or a member of the board may give a very incomplete answer and unless you are these with a group then there is no opportunity to get in a follow up question. As an individual, it is largely pointless to go to the meetings of most boards to accomplish any other than learning for yourself what they have decided to do.

The one board that I have found that really does make an effort to answer public questions is the County Commissioners. And they often mention comments made by the public during their discussion of an issue so the public sees that their concerns were heard. But then County Commissioners also has an agenda that is a schedule so the public doesn't have to wait through department reports, previous minutes and all that other stuff for the topic of interest. So the County Commissioners get it.


The loss in value of the Iron Horse has already occurred because the city overpaid at the peak of the boom and has since destroyed whatever value there was in the business.

The issue now is to get the maximum value for the property. City staff would have us believe that buildings have no value and should be demolished. That theory could be tested by asking the owners of similar sized vacant lots whether they'd be willing to trade their vacant lot for the Iron Horse.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

To verify that SB City Council still doesn't have a schedule in their agenda, I looked at the last agenda. What was the agenda item?

"Requesting direction regarding a new Police Station to be built at the Iron Horse site. (Hinsvark)"

So the agenda item looked like requesting info on what options to consider, not to make a final decision.

The staff report for Iron Horse has so many insane assumptions and claims that it should be used in a critical thinking class

It mentions Cherry Creek, Denver's 16th Street and Boulder's Pearl Ave as justifications for the project. We really should start holding city staff responsible for this stuff. Ie. if we were to move police station and Yampa St is not then comparable to Cherry Creek, etc then Deb Hinsvark should expect to be terminated for being so wrong.

"No bonding/no debt/no vote" - Hmm, why is no public vote considered such a good thing by city staff? If it is believed to be a good idea then staff should believe that a public vote is a good thing that will show public support. City Council should be offended that staff report suggests that avoiding a public vote is a good idea.

The whole discussion of Big Agnes offer neglects to mention the most critical part of getting a fair price which is good public knowledge of it being for sale. Staff report is deceitful when it fails to mention that it was not offered on MLS. California courts have ruled that failing to list in MLS demonstrates that agent failed fiduciary responsibility to get best price because that is only way to be confident all potential buyers were informed the property was for sale. Discussing an appraisal is largely irrelevant because what matters in the real world is what someone will pay, not what someone says it is worth. It was also deceitful by city staff to fail to mention that the property they used as a comparison, Chase Furniture, was facing foreclosure.

"We will also contact our certificate holders to receive approval to swap collateral and we will begin the design process." So staff believes there is a way to solve the Iron Horse bond constraints? Thus, they could just swap land collateral to say city hall buildings and then sell Iron Horse? City Staff knows there is a solution, but it is to only be used to advance their plans, not any other ideas?

After reading this then I could see holding a meeting to discuss City Manager job performance. With the question being how does this sort of biased crap get produced by city staff and given to city council and distributed to the public?

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 1 month ago

It does seem that a bond question for an expenditure of this size should be on the table. It is strange a community vote would be so counter to City management goals. Don't they remember SB700 was also refused such a vote and when the vote was forced by petition it proved the City did not have community support.

I do not think this project is a solution to the Iron Horse bond issue. It actually locks in that obligation thru 2032and removes a potential sale of the Iron Horse, which we can do beginning 2017.

I prefer to ask, does this make sense if you take the Iron Horse bonds out of the question?

I read the ULI report for Yampa Street, which I believe is in that packet pdf. It does not recommend vacating the public safety building. It does say that public parcels like the City police/fire building and the YVEA site are opening up for redevelopment. The Search and Rescue building is not in the report but was said to be targeted for demolition and remade into a park/gathering space. Thus there is a rational that these public properties add flexibility and new purposing (if that is a word). I would imagine a vacant lot offers the same.

The report does not label the fire/police building a "dead zone". That label comes from City staff.

The report seems to find most value in the sale of those public properties in this regard: They currently pay no taxes. Thus the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) modes of a URA would be very lucrative for the URA when virtually ALL of the future taxes of such a property would be diverted to the URA (rather than to the taxpayer's treasury).

In any event, this seems an argument to hold any sale of the police/fire building until a URA is in place? YVEA is not selling for 8 years or so.

Here is the central part I do not understand: One can plainly see there are vacant and for sale properties up and down the street today. Yes, they would benefit from sidewalks and better bike lanes. But why would a parcel switch from police/fire to Big Agnes make so much difference? I simply do not understand this rush, particularly when it will deplete City reserves amidst challenged future City budgets.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

If I was a city employee then I would wonder what in the hell is going on.

On one hand the city budgets for no revenue growth so there is no money for raises.

On the other hand, City Finance dept is willing to first deplete reserves and then say they will be rebuilt if revenues continue to increase.

So City picks one projection to deprive staff of raises and then picks another projection to say they can afford to immediately build a new police station.

I can see how city staff morale would be low and they could feel as if taken for granted. If the revenues are expected to be there then what happened to other spending choices?

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Harry Thompson 2 years, 1 month ago

It seems to me that once the city wants something they will say and do anything to justify the need. I feel that perhaps a more prudent course of action would be to move the fire station to another location. The fire trucks have ingress and egress issues on Yampa street, there is no reason for the police cars to have to do the same. Police cars can access the building via the alley or the lower part of the building via 8th street. The police would then use the entire building and be right in the thick of the action, where a large percentage of calls originate.

On the other hand if the city has to move the police station in the future how much more might the building be worth after the city improves Yampa street? Maybe the taxpayers could benefit from their tax tax dollars being spent on improvements instead of a private entity.

I can think of two cities in California, that thought that improvements to their retail centers would significantly improve their tax collections and instead are facing bankruptcy.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

There is no doubt that we are locked into the bonds for 10 years unless we pay a pre-payment penalty in the neighborhood of $2 million. Now that the Iron Horse property is probably worth say $1.5 million (as a vacant site I would guess) I believe the bond holders would be all over changing the collateral for the bonds--or the City could just give them the Iron Horse and ruin our credit rating for decades to come. Do we really care if our credit rating is trashed as we have so much money in reserves? Probably so as future Councils would have their hands tied if they ever needed to borrow. We could even secure the bonds with "cash" which would be a 100% improvement and REALLY make the bond holders smile---they may even lower the rate on the bonds for that kind of collateral. Plus it would prevent this Council from spending all our reserves in one fell swoop on raises for everyone. Not my first choice for the reserves. Then the Iron Horse could be sold, swapped for an appropriate site for a safety campus somewhere in town--or the City could engage in a public/private partnership by contributing the site for a use that is appropriate then split profits from the sale of say townhomes if that is deemed to be the right path for the site. Or, hey, maybe BAP could buy that site and refurbish one of the building into office space and just demolish one for manufacturing,warehousing and shipping. Just to show the visitors that we want to show off our successful home grown businesses. Many ways to "skin the cat" with the MAIN goal of jettisoning the IRON HORSE.

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Bob Smith 2 years, 1 month ago

HEY HEY, HO HO -- THIS CITY COUNCIL MUST GO!!

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

Not all of them Bob--------a few are actually looking out for the financial interests of the City and some of the "new" members are major disappointments!!

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Bob Smith 2 years, 1 month ago

When I invoke Occam's Razor, I am led to only one conclusion: corruption. Pilot, are you bothering to investigate this possibility?

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Bob Smith 2 years, 1 month ago

Well, something very fishy is DEFINITELY going on!

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

Cindy, "There is no doubt that we are locked into the bonds for 10 years unless we pay a pre-payment penalty in the neighborhood of $2 million"

Another lie that has been fed to the public. It is false for two reasons:

  1. City can purchase a chunk of those bonds on the open market. The value of the bonds are more than the owed amount because they pay higher than current interest rates. But it would be a reasonable purchase for the reserve funds because it would reduce future obligations. City could probably buy back all the bonds if it wished.

  2. As City Fiance Dept claims in their presentation, the land collateral for Iron Horse could be swapped. The city is obligated to pay the bonds. The bonds are currently secured by the Iron Horse property including buildings. City's own Fiance Dept says they could substitute other valuable city property to replace the Iron Horse buildings.

So City could work to swap the land collateral and then be free to sell Iron Horse. Remember, City will take a loss regardless, but at least they can try to minimize the losses instead of maximizing the losses.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

Bob, I think there is another factor behind this push. If senior city staff want to be recruited into a better job for a bigger city then they do not want a history of quiet restrained competence. No, they want a resume of revitalizing Yampa St and building a new public services building.

Look at why SB hired John Roberts. It was because of his high profile projects in Victorville.

So, maybe when you hire a person that got his current job because he did high profile projects in his previous job then you should expect staff to learn from their leader and thus expect high profile projects. Just consider staff's report to be the work of people looking to be recruited to jobs elsewhere before things fall apart here.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 1 month ago

If the prepayment penalty is indeed in the neighborhood of $2 million, that and the principle is still a less than paying nearly $.5 million for about 20 years. There may be ways to reduce the principle and the penalty, as Scott suggests. Selling the property makes more sense than bulldozing it.

None of which answer what should clearly be a separate question. Should we be building new public safety campuses amidst our budget challenges?

And where is the fire? Why the rush? If the City can confidently say we should undertake such a project, they should have sufficient rationale to succeed with a bond ballot.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 1 month ago

Cindy, I don't agree with you about the newest members, because that would be Sonja and Kevin, who were speaking most strongly against that night's proposal.

It was Kevin wondering aloud, where were the outraged citizens?

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

From the city staff report:  Fire future  Much depends on determining our continued relationship with the District.

Hmm, selling the station and not planning for a replacement building gives a pretty strong hint on the state of that relationship.

And sales price includes expectation that City will rent the bays for 18 months. So the city already plans on netting only $2M from the sale. So, in a an improving real estate market, the city rushes to sell now and then pay rent for using it after the sale date. Doubly stupid to sell too early so then have to pay rent, AND selling early in a rising market to get a lower sales price.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

After thinking about this issue for several days and talking with others, I would say what we have is very divergent interests in how the reserves in the City coffer should be spent. Several weeks ago the more liberal wing of the Council was hot to give bonuses and compression raises to City employees to the tune of several million $$. The conservative wing questioned and postponed that move until the budget season. Last week we had the more conservative wing of the Council calling for bulldozing the Iron Horse and selling City owned downtown property without properly listing the sites on the open market. The "liberal" wing called out that move---rightly so as well. I will give credit to the "thinking outside the box concept" to Cari as all realize that the IH is a noose around the City's neck. But as Lewi points out, spending the reserves is misguided now. And what about the "non-sexy" needs that only the City can handle i.e. sewer and water treatment plants, aging roads and bridges, constant repaving needs, sewer and storm drainage lines. Do we have major funding needs for these and other projects that only the City can plan for? Is that not truly what we need the reserves for? And if we continue to budget conservatively is it too much to ask that the Council consider lowering the local sales tax percentage since it was determined recently that the locals pay the majority of those taxes NOT the tourists? As taxpayers can we never expect a "rebate" for the City budget process doing its job and living with less just like the rest of us? I firmly believe that the City needs to substitute collateral for the bonds and sell the Iron Horse sooner rather than later. We know as a community that we will loose our collective "shirts" on the deal, but we will not have to spend the reserves to continue to maintain that losing proposition which I understand now needs a new roof. It will be a real shame if dollar 1 of the reserves goes to further maintenance of the Iron Horse. By taking our lumps in selling the Iron Horse now we may get to put another $1 million in the reserve account and no longer talk ad nauseum about it.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

Cindy, I largely agree. I'd supplement your thoughts with a couple more.

First, there is no reason that the city needs to spend the reserves. There are any number of financial risks that could lead to another recession and city could then need reserves to retain essential services instead of making cuts.

Second, the city staff report shows the folly and hypocrisy of creating budgets based upon less revenues than expected. The official budget with no revenue growth is planning to spend from reserves to make the bond payments on Iron Horse and has no money for staff pay raises. The projected actual budget adds $1.3M to reserves and has substantial amount money available to spend.

Third, sale of the existing building should be cancelled. I think it is likely that best solution would be to keep it as a police station and build a new fire station where fire dept has direct access to hwy 40/Lincoln Ave. Without the fire dept then building is big enough for police and we have a downtown police station. If it is good to have Big Agnes with employees downtown then surely police staff counts as employees. And police is even better since they have more round the clock employees and also we don't have to worry about a corporate buyout resulting in a big hole along Yampa.

I think what should happen next is to demand that city staff create an honest unbiased analysis of the current public safety building, the Iron Horse, and the city's budget situation. And then city council needs to hold public hearings to first review the staff reports and be confident that they did a proper job of analyzing the situations. And then decide where we want to go from here based upon the various issues.

Personally, I think it would sense for City to spend some money on raises, but not based upon city staff's deeply flawed salary comparison study or that city hired in people during the boom at higher salaries than longer term employees. City should be looking at which positions could find better paying local jobs and the cost of replacing those employees.

I think it would also make sense for City to spend a few hundred thousand dollars on sidewalks and similar improvements along Yampa. No need to create some tax district when the money exists today in the city budget.

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 1 month ago

Cindy, Your post is well written and honestly put. Your time spent seeking answers is so critical to our role as citizens. And getting rare in this town. I appreciate the same in Scott's post.

Over the last few months, City Hall made no sense to me either. The people I've spoken with seem to agree the employee pay comparison to other towns was invalid as a central argument. Some also felt, as I did, the City manager and Council President should not have allowed the pay raises as an agenda item outside the budget hearings. Particularly if the City Manager disagreed with those raises as he did. Weirder still that he came out against them only at the last of those two hearings. It all came across as political theatre aimed at the Council members, with predictable harm done to Roberts' relations with his own staff.

And after watching it's first hearing on the public safety building, I bring a cynical view as well to the City's moving those stations. Its truly difficult to see a sincere interest in the future of those departments when a City budget and hearing forgets to build one's next home. In my opinion Council is far too interested in real estate affairs of the Yampa Street private sector.

I started attending Council meetings a decade ago. I'm used to watching votes I disagree with. What are new in my experience are the mistakes and missed steps by City staff. We are not as good as we used to be. Maybe all government is this way with the recession these days. I can sympathize, but I'm also concerned by what I'm seeing.

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

I would hope during the budget process coming up in October that Council seriously defines the role of "reserves" so there are clear guidelines for future Councils on acceptable usage. Personally, I do not feel expenses of operations, i.e. utility bills, office supplies nor salaries and other typical line items that appear on a standard income and expense statement should be funded out of reserves. Typical of a families savings account, the funds are for large planned expenses and emergencies. (college tuition, cars, major remodeling expenses on the home). If we are in an improving economy we will project increases in the revenue providing for additional expenses like salary increases and increases in the fuel budget as gas becomes more expensive. If Council will seriously consider this request, the City will operate better for it as serious disagreements about spending the reserves (pay vs safety center) will be avoided.

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Bob Schneider 2 years, 1 month ago

Please join the discussion on the commentary on the editorial page in Sunday's paper..9/23/12

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

Steve, Seems to me that sloppy staff work is being accepted by the city council.

I would hope that anyone having made the effort to campaign and serve on the city council would look at staff's report on demolishing Iron Horse and say this raises more questions than it answers and is incredibly biased. And that this issue needs to be later when staff has done a proper analysis.

But the fact that city council considered the issue and had members willing to approve the demolition suggests that staff is doing the political bidding of some city council members by putting out biased reports.

The pay raise episode was a fiasco, but Jon Roberts was the only that could figure out that pay raises over several years would cause budget issues when city council decided to budget based upon flat revenues? Where was city council having read the report and wondering why revenue projections were different that their budget revenue projections?

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Steve Lewis 2 years, 1 month ago

In regards to the police/fire station, my central contention is this is moving much too quickly for either sound judgment or constituent buy-in on a very big $ commitment of reserves. This went out to the public on Sept 14.

re: the pay raise, I agree it was a fiasco, but am more inclined to sympathize with the city Councilors. In my opinion, when your senior staff takes a position, you tend to weigh their opinion against your own. When the topic is about what they say they need in regard to managing and compensating their own subordinates, your own opinion would tend to defer to what the senior staff is saying. Strange indeed when what senior staff say in the 2nd hearing is 180 degrees from what they were saying before. That was the heart of the fiasco.

I do not pretend to know what salary moves should be made. Certainly good leadership is part of the equation for each employee, and we are blowing that part big time. And per my above comments, the City government is beginning to make mistakes in critical matters.

In my opinion the buildings are less important than the staff within them. Janet Hruby was a telling departure of excellent staff from the City. If I were on City Council I would shelve the very expensive moves of the public safety departments into new buildings and instead have a 2013 budget that deals with with fixing our existing infrastructure, and that includes fixing the problems with our City staff.

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Scott Wedel 2 years, 1 month ago

Steve, Pay raises proposal also happened very quickly with a very poor staff report. I do not see how any one of the city council members was willing to proceed to a vote on that issue based upon that staff report. I would expect city council members worth of being elected to have said this is a half baked proposal. That it needs historic rates of staff turnover and indications of how easy/hard it is to find qualified job applicants before any decision can be make. That city council was willing to move forward until city manager revealed information contrary to the staff report was a double fiasco. City Manager basically destroyed the financial analysis in the city staff report which raises questions what is going on in city staff that allowed the report to be given to city council in the first place. The other fiasco was city council members reading that staff report and not seeing that and other obvious flaws and instead rushing to a public vote.

The Iron Horse demolition and new police station staff report is dreadful. It is not an analysis, but a marketing brochure. It is so incomplete and so biased that city council should have said there is no way they can even consider the issue. Instead, it should have inspired a discussion on how such an incomplete and biased staff report could have presented to the city council. At the very least, city council should have identified questions needing further research and pointed out the biases to be corrected before the issue can be considered.

The rest of the City Council should be deeply concerned that city staff says they worked with a city council member on the staff report and then created such a biased and incomplete staff report. Does city staff have a greater responsibility to the public to create complete and fair staff reports? Or is city staff expected to please city council members by slanting staff reports to support the policies of the council person pushing the proposal?

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cindy constantine 2 years, 1 month ago

Scott- I will say again that these two situations would not have happened with a strong, elected Mayor in place instead of a City Manager. We need objective eyes at the City office who looks critically at directions given by City Council instead of a City Manager who does the bidding of the City Council. With an elected Mayor, transparency and oversight are the #1 priorities as he/she answers to the voters.

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Harry Thompson 2 years, 1 month ago

Again here we go, once the city decides they want to do something they jump in with both feet. They will say and do anything to implement their idea and that includes staff and certain members of council. The taxpayers have had so many crazy ideas shoved down their throats that they been beaten down to become nothing more than minions for the free thinking, free spending city. The fact that city jumps on an offer to purchase the existing station at what seems like a low price says to me that they are either micro managing the project and trying to steer what type of stores they think they want. Or they care so little about the trust the citizens put in them that they don't care that they might make hundreds of thousands more if they just slow down, let the public absorb what is going on, see if other buyers might be willing to pay more for the building.

Please understand these comments in no way represent my support of the newest fiasco the city is trying to shove down our throats. I think that the supporters of this insanity need additional scrutiny by the public. The city, state and federal economies may not really improve for many years to come.

Take a good long look at the city of Stockton and the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes Ca. The free wheeling spending of government and the stakeholders promises of additional tax collections if the city would just make improvements, have landed both in bankruptcy.

STOP THE FEEL GOOD VOTING AND DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR THE LONG TERM GOOD OF STEAMBOAT SPRINGS.

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Scott Wedel 2 years ago

Cindy, I think this sort of rushed and pushed through major spending item is exactly the sort of thing that can so easily happen with a mayor.

Look at how badly biased a staff report resulted from staff working with Cari. A mayoral system is much easier to have those issues because then staff is reporting to the mayor.

City government with a strong mayor also requires city council members have their own staff to not be steamrolled by the mayor.

A part time city council is appropriate for a city this size. Proper governance just requires a nonpolitical city staff that produces proper analysis of options and costs.

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