Our View: With lodging tax revenue, don't bite the hand that feeds

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Reader poll

Which proposal do you think should receive the lodging tax revenue?

  • City of Steamboat Springs: purchase open space 3%
  • Downtown Revitalization Committee: Yampa Street park and promenade 8%
  • Friends of the Chief: refurbish downtown theater 12%
  • Friends of the Yampa: Yampa River improvements 4%
  • Haymaker Golf Course: capital improvements 2%
  • Howelsen Hill Sports Complex Partners: renovation and expansion of rodeo arena, ice arena, Nordic ski trails and lodge, parking lots, etc. 18%
  • Old Town Hot Springs: expansion and renovation project 13%
  • Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance: new biking and multiuse trails 40%

2721 total votes.

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Steamboat Springs’ lodging tax committee this week halved the number of finalists vying for annual revenues from a 1 percent tax on nightly resort accommodations, but its toughest work still lies ahead.

Looming next for the committee and the eight remaining finalists are public presentations in March. The volunteer committee composed of two Steamboat Springs City Council members, one public representative and three members of Steamboat’s Lodging Association then is expected to recommend one of the proposals to the full City Council, which has the ultimate say in how the $600,000 to $800,000 in annual lodging tax revenues will be spent.

As this Editorial Board did back in July when the tax proposal process began, it’s appropriate to remind the community, the committee and the City Council about the history of the lodging tax and the obligation we have to those who pay it.

In 1986, 71 percent of Steamboat voters approved the ballot question implementing the tax. Specifically, the ballot question asked: “Shall the City Council of Steamboat Springs, in order to provide revenues to fund development of improvements and amenities in Steamboat Springs which will promote tourism and enhance the vitality of Steamboat Springs as a premier destination resort, and enhance the community identity, environmental desirability and economic health of Steamboat Springs, enact an ordinance levying a lodging tax of 1 percent on public accommodations of less than 30 days?”

Despite arguments by some that the tax could or even should be used to fund ongoing maintenance of existing facilities and amenities, we think the language of the ballot question clearly specifies the revenues be used “to fund development of improvements and amenities.” Further, any projects funded by the tax must clearly “promote tourism and enhance the vitality of Steamboat Springs as a premier destination resort.”

So while there were many worthwhile projects presented to the lodging tax committee, many simply don’t meet the criteria of the ballot language. For example, the beautification of U.S. Highway 40 medians on the southeast side of Steamboat is a needed improvement, but it doesn’t pass the tourism test.

Similarly, a proposal to fund future capital projects at Haymaker Golf Course, which was built using lodging tax revenues and which has enjoyed exclusive use of those revenues since 1995, also doesn’t fit the bill. While we’re cognizant of the ongoing maintenance costs associated with new capital projects that fall under the city’s umbrella, we strongly believe those amenities must put in place a fee structure or financing plan that allows for self-sufficiency. At Haymaker, which is a fantastic municipal golf facility but never has lived up to its billing as a tourism driver, that very well could mean continued increases in greens fees for locals and visitors.

As much as each of us has our biases about which of the current proposals might have the most beneficial impact on our own lives, the lodging tax committee must remain focused on determining which project best meets the criteria of the ballot language. Lest we forget, amenities constructed using revenues from the lodging tax must have a strong potential to increase tourism here, which not only benefits the folks who pay the tax in the first place but also will help ensure future stability — and perhaps even growth — in that revenue stream.

Comments

Paul Hughes 1 year, 10 months ago

It was a wise person who first said "When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging." All eight of these admirable projects constitute more money holes. Once they are paid for by the accommodation tax, how will they be maintained? It's all well and good to call for a fee that will make these self-sufficient, but I'll bet that doesn't happen. Don't we have enough stuff? Shouldn't we concentrate such resources as we have on taking care of those before we add more? Perhaps we should call a time-out and not spend the accommodation tax largesse until we have a solid plan in place that provides for maintaining all of the excellent amenities that we have now and that we may add in the future.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 10 months ago

The money will be spent, Paul. Let's hope it is spent wisely. I agree with you about self-sufficiency. Maintenance of capital improvements was a less recognized impact when the Accommodations Tax was written and passed.

I disagree with the editorial in this regard: Perhaps it is true that the tax should not be used to fund ongoing maintenance of EXISTING facilities and amenities. But it seems entirely appropriate that the tax be used to maintain what the tax builds.

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Grey Schuhmacher 1 year, 10 months ago

Great article. Way to keep the committee on task by pointing out that golf does NOT bring tourism to town & should be able to support itself. I'm a golfer, by the way, and love Haymaker, but the facilities are amazing there already, and do not need any more public support. It's time the funds go to better tourism drivers. Nice work Pilot.

I'm the owner of a lodging company here in Steamboat. So, I benefit from the tourism that comes to town while also helping to generate the accommodations tax itself.

I support the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance proposal. Trails will bring people to town throughout the spring, summer and fall and all days of the week. Ball fields, rodeo grounds, skate rinks, etc will only bring people for events that are almost always on weekends and during already busy times of summer. Other projects like Chief and Hot Springs benefit a few at great cost and do little to attract tourism.

Trails offer the greatest bang for the buck, draw the largest number of visitors, and has the lowest ongoing maintenance costs - especially when built in a sustainable way like the new Rotary trail.

The Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance proposal is the only one that has true community involvement throughout the process. Many public meetings and input helped shape the proposal. Locals have already & will continue to help design and build and therefore will have a vested interest in keeping the trails in top condition. Instead of hiring outside contractors, local trail workers can be trained in a day. This could be a community project like no other, and will truly enhance our attractiveness as a year round destination more than any other proposal.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

The voters never addressed or even considered the question of whom would pay for the maintenance of the facilities BUILT by the lodging tax. Clearly, the voters did not intend for the tax to repair roads or other basic city infrastructure.

But the question of paying for the maintenance of facilities built by the lodging tax is more complex. Surely, after 25 years, the facilities built by the lodging tax are expected to need maintenance.

If the lodging tax is to be used to only create new facilities that are to be maintained by the city then obviously at some point then the city will lack the resources to maintain everything built by the lodging tax. If the facility was worth building in the first place then surely it must be worth maintaining.

A better management approach towards facilities would be to consider the required ongoing maintenance costs as part of the approval process. And the maintenance plans for existing facilities needs to be resolved presumably as a shared responsibility with the City.

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George Hresko 1 year, 10 months ago

I hate to be a "fun sponge", and pour cold water on the entire process, but, if it is true as Scott W writes above that the voters never considered or addressed the ongoing costs of facilities that were built with the lodging tax, then, the only logical next step is to address it now, before spending any monies on new facilities. A new ballot measure, if that what it takes, needs to be presented to repair the obvious deficiencies. That the city builds anything without a consideration of how much its continuing costs will be, and how those are to be paid, is fiscal foolishness. The correct next step is to halt the process and correct the original ballot measure. And, oh, by the way, the lodging tax revenues then should be used first to pay for the ongoing costs of any facilities already built with the tax!

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john bailey 1 year, 10 months ago

all i wanna know is the sailors hockey score from yesterday. anybody, wheres the sports writer, jeez, hey update please...............

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