Our View: Vote ‘yes’ on Referendum 2A

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Don’t let the confusing ballot language put you off — Referendum 2A offers the promise of continuing the renaissance of Yampa Street and providing more of the world-class bicycling and walking trails that add so much to the quality of life here.

At issue

How to spend lodging tax revenue

Our view

Vote “yes” to support expanded bike trails and the Yampa Street park project.

Steamboat Today editorial board — June to December 2013

  • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • David Baldinger Jr., community representative
  • Lisa Brown, community representative

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.

Referendum 2A would repurpose the city’s existing 1 percent lodging tax, which has been devoted to retiring the debt on Haymaker Golf Course since 1995. This fall’s election marks the first time in all those years that Steamboat voters have had a say in how the money is spent.

If the sight of families and teens swimming in Charlie’s Hole on the Yampa River on a late July afternoon appeals to you, Referendum 2A is designed to bring you more of that precious river access in the heart of downtown. And if your business or place of work benefited from the 700 cyclists who came to town for each of the first three annual Steamboat Stinger races on Emerald Mountain, Referendum 2A has the potential to keep those wheels spinning.

Imagine the Yampa River Core Trail extending upstream all the way to Haymaker — 2A provides the funds the community needs to leverage outside grants and make that dream a reality.

Best of all, taxpayers in Steamboat don’t pay the tax. The $650,000 to $900,000 the tax can be expected to generate annually in the coming decade is a gift from our many thousands of visitors who check into local hotels and condominiums. It’s not a new tax, and it’s not a tax increase.

It strikes us that recent documentation of the significant amount of bicycle traffic that travels the five or six blocks of Yampa Street is confirmation that, no matter how tortuous the decision-making process was, Steamboat Springs City Council’s joining of the Yampa Street and trails initiatives has turned out for the best. Yampa Street is the beginning and end of some of the best outings in Steamboat.

Why does Steamboat need more mountain biking trails? The very successful Honey Stinger event is a case in point. More specifically, it is the recently completed 6-mile Beall Trail, built at a cost of $33,000, that has made a big difference for the race.

Referendum 2A proponent Doug Davis explained to us how the Beall Trail linked two other trails needed to make the Honey Stinger race work. And that’s one of the priorities for the trails group going forward.

“We’re not just adding trails piecemeal,” Davis said. “The bulk of these trails build networks instead of trails to nowhere.”

How many historic Western downtowns have a healthy river running out the back door? And how beneficial would it be if the acquisition of a small parcel of land was transformed into a new pocket park on the river? Proponent Mark Scully said the Seventh Street parcel offers the prospect of a new pedestrian bridge over the river strengthening the link to recreation and parking on the other side. We think he is correct. If the community desires the parcel at Seventh Street, now is the time to bring it into the public domain before it is acquired by someone else.

We’ve heard detractors say that private landowners and developers stand to gain the most from the revitalization of Yampa Street. We would respond by saying that if investing lodging tax dollars already devoted to tourism resulted in stimulating the private sector to create a pedestrian-oriented residential project on the east end of Yampa Street, it only could add more life to downtown without adding automobile traffic. And that, too, is a desirable outcome.

We urge you to vote “yes” on Referendum 2A.

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Comments

John Fielding 6 months ago

It is nicely written, tells of the wonderful things to be gained by most aspects of the proposal. Oddly, it does not describe the benefit to it being a ten year irrevocable commitment. Surely there is a significant advantage to that factor. Why not elaborate on it?

The commentary also responded to only one point made by detractors. Surely there are others worth rebutting?

My observation this is just fluff, bells and whistles, shiny objects. This is not analytical, it is advertising.

Personally I favor the expenditures of a significant portion of the funds for the next few years on these very objectives. But I think the term and nature of the commitment is problematic. Shame on the Pilot for completely neglecting that crucial factor. That is where the real sales pitch is needed, if in fact it can be shown there is enough advantage to it to defend its propriety.

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John Fielding 6 months ago

Now that the Pilot has taken this editorial position, will they give equal coverage to those who hold contrasting opinions?Yesterday this came out, and I see today an op-ed by supporters. Will there be one tomorrow by someone who opposes the measure?

I encourage the Pilot to present equal coverage, including their own position as part of that measure. Having the Press take an advocacy position to the extreme of exclusion of alternative viewpoints is detrimental to society, let's not have it happen locally please.

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Scott Wedel 6 months ago

"More specifically, it is the recently completed 6-mile Beall Trail, built at a cost of $33,000,"

So at $5,500 per mile then we are voting for a measure that will create about 1,000 miles of trails?

Of course not, that is the sort of best case scenario used to sell a tax and then, like the airline tax, we end getting the same or less for a whole lot more money.

A volunteer organization finds it much easier to find volunteers than a tax supported government department. How many volunteers vs how many employees work at the the ice rink?

So trail building will quickly switch from a primarily volunteer effort to contracted jobs where a mile of median improvements costs a half million dollars.

This editorial suggests committing the tax will result in a multiplication of the volunteer trail building success. I think it will largely be an end to the very effective and popular volunteer trail building efforts. If we reject this 10 year commitment and instead fund popular trails via annual city council approvals then we could preserve what is already working well.

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Eric Meyer 6 months ago

Scott,

I have valued your criticism and critiques of the trails and other proposed projects trying to get funding from the lodging tax for the past year and a half. I think that based on those comments your biggest concerns for the trails project are: 1) the commitment of 10 years 2) combining of multiple projects into one vote and now 3) someone might get paid to build or manage the build

All but the third one are reasonable concerns. The third is unreasonable because any and all other ideas submitted would involve little to no volunteer construction or maintenance and none is expected. Just because trails can be built and maintained by volunteers does not means you will obtain the best possible trail relying on volunteers for the majority of the work. Maybe we'll see you out on the trail someday volunteering along side us?

If the ballot language as presented by the council fails, it sounds like you would support the annual allocation of funds to trails like the committee recommended. That is assuming the groups volunteering their time to improve and connect the trail systems continue to: 1) work towards maximizing the money (volunteer work when possible & matching utilizing grants as much as possible) 2) Collect a reasonable amount of data showing the usage and progress of the trails project.

Did I miss anything?

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Eric Meyer 6 months ago

FYI, I will not be getting paid to manage or build any of these projects. I hate mixing work and pleasure as then pleasure becomes work and less pleasurable (kind of like way the end of this year and a half long process has become after the recommendation that the volunteer committee made twice was modified. This was extra crazy since the committee was dominated by council itself and the lodging community who should have the biggest say in how the funds are spent.).

I am continually surprised how many of the other "ideas" that were rejected by the committee quietly get funded from the city general fund while the city continually rejects the idea of putting any money into the trails projects - Bear River Bike Park, Core Trail extension west to Steamboat II, Core Trail extension Southeast to Haymaker).

I only got involved because I have used trails all over the West and I can see the potential Steamboat has over many other places.

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Robin Craigen 6 months ago

Echoing Eric's comments, this funding will get something done that is way beyond the scope of a volunteer effort. The trails we have built already have shown the potential that a trails master plan as envisaged through 2A and the Trails Alliance proposal can now achieve. It's not a gamble. Without this idea being 20 years in the making we would not be so bold as to suggest that this is the best use of the accommodations tax.

Many people have worked tirelessly to bring us to this point. The doubting questions have been asked many times over - will this work? Yes!

When you understand the scope of what is proposed and the potential that has been demonstrated elsewhere and applied to Steamboat you will see why 2A makes sense as the best use of these funds.

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Scott Wedel 6 months ago

You seriously think that the $600,000 a year is going to be handed to Trails Alliance and you to manage? So naive.

A dedicated tax is going to have a government board appointed by the city to administer the spending on trails. That board won't even have to fund proposals by Trails Alliance. And soon enough there will be political pressure to build trails/sidewalks along Oak Street and so on.

And soon enough there will be pressure by commercial excavation companies to build trails faster using them so that trails get built faster.

Have we already forgotten the political games on kicking out the award winning operations managers of Haymaker?

RALF was a pretty effective nonprofit. They were able to put the same siding on Hillside Village that was put on the SB Grand. As a government authority they became the hugely ineffective YVHA

To put it bluntly, the overhead that comes with a dedicated tax revenue stream is simply not worth It. If it passes then you all will realize in a couple of years that you would have been far better off going to the city council to request and get annual funding.

There is no benefit of a 10 year funding commitment. If you all believe that you will soon enough lose public support and the city council would not continue to fund trails then what is going to be like politically when you all get money despite a lack of public support?

And it would be easy enough to do a multi-year project with annual funding approved by the city council. They could do less for a year to let money accumulate. Or they could loan from reserves against next year's revenues and so on.

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Eric Meyer 6 months ago

Scott,

I know you have read my responses to you under other articles so now you are just wasting my time. Life lesson number two of the day: Ignor online comments so I can get my work done and go ride my bike this weekend.

You have clearly not read the proposal and it is hard to fit hundreds of pages into comments under an article. No one involved with the Trails Alliance asked for, or expects any money. It should go to the land manager to contract out to the most qualified low bidder. Each land manager might need to use some of the money to ensure the project is done correctly.

We did however suggest a committee be appointed to prioritize projects (even at 600K/year for 10 years not all the projects would be completed). Maybe suggesting a committee be appointed was naive, but passionate locals would step up and volunteer their time assuming they thought council would take their recommendations. I will not be one of those looking to be on that committee if council ever decides to form one.

I have no worries about losing public support for the trail proposal assuming the proposal submitted was followed even relatively closely. We did our homework. Asked as many people and groups as we could find and compiled a suggestion. The farther the end result strays from the suggestion, the less public support it will likely get.

I am out of volunteer time to continue to mention all the benefits so I'll leave you with one last one. The long term commitment is very important with federal land managers. Does it need to be 10 years? I don't know, but I do know that the projects that have the best chance at getting people to drive or fly to Steamboat and fill beds are better off with a known funding source more than a year at a time.

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Scott Wedel 6 months ago

I doubt the majority of voters will spend the time to worry about how the 10 year commitment will lead to problems or that it all is unnecessary to lock in funding. So I expect it to pass.

And then soon enough, like with the airline tax, public starts learning the reality is not the campaign.

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Collin Kelley 6 months ago

Hey, Scott W - I would sincerely and genuinely enjoy hearing a more 'in-depth' perspective on your stance against 2A. The first question that comes to my mind - and in no way am I nearly as educated or well-read on the semantics or the verbiage of the allocation of the lodging tax dollars as you have proven to be - But, as I understand it, that money has to be spent on improvements to the city/valley that generate or promote tourism, etc... If not bike trails and Yampa River Park, then what would you see fit to spend the money on to draw tourists to Steamboat? A lot of people don't realize that this is not a "new tax" - rather it is spending money generated by people staying in our hotels and condos throughout the year... so what would be your proposal to spend those funds on?

Thanks for your input and thoughtful, well researched posts -

Collin Kelley

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Scott Wedel 6 months ago

Collin,

As I have said before, the accommodations committee selected trails and I think the committee did far too much work to override their decision.

I think it is pretty safe to suggest that there are worthy trail projects for several years. Thus, I would expect the city council to allocate funding for trails for the next three years barring a corruption scandal.

After a few years then there would be data to evaluate the trail building program. If building trails was cost effective and the trails were viewed as useful infrastructure then I would expect trail building to continue.

I just think it is reckless to commit to a 10 year trail building program that is almost impossible to stop if it proves to be a poor choice of spending money. Trail building could be far less effective than hoped. There could be something new that is seen as now being essential to attract tourists such as offering free wifi. I think we do not want to be stuck unable to make corrections or improvements for the next 10 years.

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