Commentary: Vote ‘yes’ on 2A for trails and park

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This November, the Steamboat Springs community will vote to commit the accommodations tax dollars for the second time since 1986. The decision in front of voters in Referendum 2A is to allocate the accommodations tax revenue for 10 years to fund two projects instrumental in the tourism economy and the enhancement of our community for all who recreate and live in Steamboat and the Yampa Valley.

The two projects are the ballot finalists after a 15-month process that included a proposal period, vetting by the lodging tax committee and final approval from the Steamboat Springs City Council to become a ballot question. The final step of this process is to ask you, the voter, to allocate the accommodations tax funds to the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance and the Yampa River park projects.

During the vetting process, the projects in 2A proved the best use of accommodations tax funds to build recreational amenities that are economic drivers and satisfiers that also will enhance the community of Steamboat and surrounding areas. As a result, the projects of 2A will generate year-round tourism and economic opportunity.

This is not a new tax and does not increase any taxes on the residents of Steamboat. The accommodations tax has been generated through a 1 percent fee on visitor lodging since 1986. Referendum 2A presents an opportunity to enhance our community’s amenities and further establish Steamboat as a globally recognized destination through the use of funds generated by visitors.

Referendum 2A will fund the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance master plan with an expected $5.1 million throughout 10 years and provide funds to begin purchasing land for the Yampa River Park. Project details are as follows:

■ 2A will build an interconnected, comprehensive trails network, including an extended Yampa River Core Trail, directional trails on Emerald Mountain, new trails on Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Pass to Steamboat Ski Area, improved street-to-trail connections, upgraded trailhead amenities, traffic crossings and safe routes to schools. These trails will be known throughout the international outdoor community.

■ 2A will provide a downtown riverfront park — a charming amenity that will be usable year-round by residents and visitors. This city-owned asset will offer Yampa River access, a view corridor to Howelsen Hill and the potential for an outdoor stage, ice rink and location for multiple festivals. The possibilities are endless for a new park in the heart of downtown Steamboat that builds on one of our most prized natural amenities: the Yampa River.

With a 10-year commitment of accommodations tax funds, the selected projects can maximize and expand recreation experiences for residents and visitors through implementing long-range plans and allowing for the leveraging of funds to secure grant opportunities.

Referendum 2A is in alignment with the vision of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan the creation of open space and parks is paramount to the Community Plan, and 2A would foster the fulfillment of that vision.

The time is now, and 2A is the opportunity to enrich and enhance the Steamboat community experience.

Comments

bill schurman 1 year ago

I'm voting "NO"as the trails project is really the idea of locals who will benefit the most under the guise that it will benefit tourists so as to fit within the intent of the lodging tax.

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Eric Meyer 1 year ago

Bill,

You obviously have not taken the time to educate yourself on the trails project and the data behind its potential. The information is out there. We have gathered it, presented it (many times) and many educated people (including those who are involved with the industry that pays the tax) have recommended the trails project.

What project do you think could even come close to the value of connecting and improving our existing trail systems can bring to Steamboat Springs?

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bill schurman 1 year ago

Give it to help build the police department as that is directly involved in aiding tourists.

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Eric Meyer 1 year ago

I am no lawyer, but based on how I read the original ballot language and the history of its use, that is not even a remote possibility......

“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 premiere destination resort, and enhance the community identity, environmental desirability and economic health of Steamboat Springs, enact AN ORDINANCE LEVYING A LODGING TAX OF 1% ON PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS OF LESS THAN 30 DAYS?”

Maybe you should have volunteered your time a year and a half ago when this process started and seen how far that idea went.

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Eric Meyer 1 year ago

Mark,

Agreed, not sure why I have spent so much time digging for the data. I guess I am learning a life lesson as I have never gotten involved with a process like this before.

Maybe it would have been better to come in uneducated at the last minute and scream loud and hope the city funds whatever partially developed idea of the month comes up.

When the council decided to modify the "idea" submitted by the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance and recommendation of the committee tasked with vetting the ideas, they took a risk of totally wasting a huge amount of volunteer time and effort over the past year and a half. I hope their gamble works out, but it is quite frustrating for those who volunteered so much of their time. I hope they have a backup plan if their ballot language does not pass.

It is hard to come back from a great weekend out on trails in a town that understands the cost/benefit of backcountry trails and see all these naysayers comments. If I can get all the work done for my now location neutral business working long days this week it will be back to the desert next weekend with the thousands of other trail users flocking to newly built trails and old classics.

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

Bill,

I think that is a stretch. But it would be easy enough to use it to build sidewalks or a promenade on Oak St, widen Amethyst for bike lanes to the schools or any other number of projects not proposed by the Trails Alliance.

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Eric Meyer 1 year ago

Safer crossings at Amethyst are a part of the proposal.

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Eric Meyer 1 year ago

The underpass at Amethyst was too much to justify. The safer crossings will provide a better connection from town to Spring Creek trail and the USFS land beyond benefiting visitors and locals. These projects were selected with this funding source in mind.

A secondary benefit for locals would be the safe routes to school program that would make it much safer by both getting more kids to walk and bike to school and in turn reducing the traffic of parents dropping them off reducing traffic and making it even safer in that area.

I personally think it would be appropriate for the city to pay for the portion of infrastructure that is used by locals. It should be easy to determine a pretty good estimate of use based on the trail user data and a quick site survey to determine % of locals vs % of visitor use.

The side walk master plan was reviewed and a connection to get people from the core trail to Lincoln avenue was included in the proposal as well as some segments near lodging properties close to the core trail.

When city staff was asked about sidewalks..... they had tried to do sidewalks in some neighborhoods in the past and had a very negative response. It sounded like they would not go down that path again without all the property owners on the same page and approaching them together asking for sidewalks. The locations we put in the proposal don't have a large number of property owners that will be impacted and those in the area were supportive.

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mark hartless 1 year ago

Well, Bill... even though we are often at odds this is one time I think you hit the nail SQUARELY on the head.

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

Eric,

As for the political process, you all did great to be selected by the commission as their top choice.

But then you all got schooled and abused by city staff intent on using the popularity of your projects to get approval of their priority of funding Yampa St improvements.

And then despite warnings and advice given at the time, you all went along with the city's plan. You all could have used the popularity of trails to oppose this funding of Yampa St and a 10 year commitment. And instead insisted upon a clean vote on trails.

It is as if the city was House Republicans offering to keep government open by attaching amendments that would never pass otherwise. And you were in the same position as Senate Democrats to play hardball and win the issue, but instead caved.

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Eric Meyer 1 year ago

That is a great comparison and the end result looks like the Senate did what the majority of Americans had been asking for, however tying the effects of their decision to a local level and this accommodations tax even, it likely cost this community in a couple ways:

1) We had to reschedule a meeting with the BLM that was about applying for a grant for one of the projects. It is still unclear if we will be able to apply for the grant this fall as the meeting has not be rescheduled yet and the deadline is fast approaching.

2) We had to also reschedule a meeting with USFS and now are likely not able to coordinate with the experts from IMBA on those projects this fall as full on winter appears to have set in. They were in town and the meeting was set for the day that the Rep controlled house refused to vote on the clean bill effectively shutting down the government.

Would it have been better for the Senate to have compromised and not been a part of costing this country and estimated 24 billion (I am sure there are many other estimates but this was the top of my Google search: http://www.nbcnews.com/business/budget-battles-bite-out-economy-will-be-billions-8C11409508 )? That is a question for someone else, not me.

It is very unfortunate that some of the elected officials at all levels government seem to think they can make better decisions than those they task with fully vetting an issue. The consequences of their decisions are rarely able to be fully presented in 3 minute comments or even 20 minute presentations. That would seem to be the advantage of having a group meet for 1 or 2 times a month for more than a year.

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Eric Meyer 1 year ago

Group decisions are a matter of compromise. I don't think that any involved with the trails proposal were the kids kicking and screaming to get their way growing up. Maybe we should have gone that route, but we will likely not know if that was the better path until farther down the road. Don't think the group took the decision to support the council's ballot language lightly. We weighed the options pluses and minuses carefully. In the end there were more positives in supporting the council's ballot language than not supporting it.

Personally. while I have some reservations about the funding source of the Yampa project, there is no doubt in my mind that more public access to the river will be a long term benefit to visitors and locals. Few towns have such a nice river flowing a block off their main street. As long as they don't get rid of the bike lanes and add the bump outs like on Lincoln, I think that can be a great project. Those bump outs make Lincoln less safe for the average cyclist pushing them to break the law and ride on the sidewalks. Once again just my personal opinion. Take it or leave as you will.

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

You still don't fully understand to the extent you were hustled/schooled by the city.

They didn't just bamboozle you all to accept Yampa St being added. They tricked you into a 10 year commitment which then removes getting funding from the city council, but not from some secondary government board which will soon enough do exactly as told by city staff.

You all allowed yourselves to take the lure of nice projects. The critics of 2A are generally accepting that it is a nice lure, but are saying the barbed hook makes it not worth to take the lure.

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Pat West 1 year ago

Scott, please explain what will happen to these funds if 2A isn't passed? Are you ready to have this discussion every year? I support 2A although I don't want any funds to go into Yampa street, but I compromised my opinion so that both sides can get a win from these funds.

Also, besides you, and the anti-tax, anti-government posters on the forum, where is the opposition to 2A?

If 2A fails, we go back to the drawing board on how to spend the accommodations tax, failure of 2A does not sunset this tax. Maybe that should have been written into the ballot, or a provision to find the airlines, or the Chamber's marketing efforts, or free passes for locals.

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Pat West 1 year ago

So Scott is quick to naysay others hard work, but slow to come up with an acceptable alternative.

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Collin Kelley 1 year 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 world-class bike trails and the Yampa River Park, then what specifically 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 please, what would be your proposal to spend those funds on?

Thanks for your input and thoughtful posts,

Collin Kelley

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

This year's commission selected trails and clearly the main priorities will take several years to complete. Thus, if were not on the ballot then I would have expected the city council to annually allocated funds for trails.

The accommodations tax committee was not tasked with making recommendations that was to be enshrined by a ballot measure. They were just asked to solicit funding requests and pick the most worthy. Many of the initial requests were smaller projects that would have required no more than a few years of funding.

The idea of a 10 year funding commitment was introduced into the mix by the city after the accommodations committee had made their recommendations.

So it is interesting that the 10 year funding commitment that was not part of the original plan is now somehow essential and the original plan is somehow unworkable.

Though, since the Trails Alliance decided to go all in supporting the ballot measure, if the measure fails then the city council will have to decide whether the public rejected trails, rejected Yampa St or rejected enshrining the 10 year plan. And so it is unknown what city council would decide to do if 2A fails. When their current plan is rejected by the voters then it becomes hard to continue with parts of that plan. So I would expect that the city council, at a minimum, reforms a committee to decide whether they should fund annually or if committing to several years of funding then what is the optimum length for each proposal.

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Pat West 1 year ago

Nice history, I don't see any ideas. Like I said easy to nay say, not easy to figure out a plan that works for everyone. I'm not in favor of spending the money down on Yampa, but will compromise my stand against the Yampa "bailout" to get trails. It's a partial win for both sides, instead of a total win and loss for one or the other. And despite being against the Yampa bailout, I will admit the new park space and access to the river will be used and enjoyed by locals and visitors, and will enhance Steamboat.

Without any organized resistance, I doubt 2A will fail.

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

The idea is not to commit to a spending plan for 10 years. Instead see how it is going after 3 or so years and continue only if it is going well. Considering the effectiveness of spending could prevent $4.2M from being wasted on a failed plan.

Mistakes are not always realized when they are made. A city council thought that purchasing Iron Horse was a great idea. It is very arrogant and reckless to believe that what seems like a good idea now will be seen as a good idea 3, 5, 7 etc years in the future.

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

Mark,

It is very hard to get the voters to overturn a prior measure.

Trails would have to be shown to be a completely corrupt venture to get a measure on the ballot to rescind the 10 year commitment.

The far more likely scenario of trails now being seen as less effective than alternatives is not likely sufficient to succeed at the ballot.

Regardless, why approve a 10 year spending commitment when there is no clear reason why it is 10 vs 3, 5 or 15? The 10 year commitment is completely arbitrary and a very bad idea.

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Eric Meyer 1 year ago

Scott,

While I don't have a clear reason why it ended at 10 years, here is a little history on that part of the discussion....

The first recommendation from the Accommodations Tax Committee (ATC) was for 10 years. Council started at 20 years when the Yampa project was first added. When the ATC was asked to evaluate if Yampa could be done too they came back with funding the trails project for 12 years. With two variables totally out of the control of Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance (SSTA) ($/year and length of commitment), we at one point suggested to the committee that 5 years would allow time to show the increasing impact. That was before the $/year for the first three years was halved. The end result after much discussion was the current 10 year plan.

SSTA worked hard to shorten the commitment and reduce other potentially negative aspects such as bonding the whole trails proposal when it is not need. The end result was a compromise.

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Eric Meyer 1 year ago

A guess at why Council chose 10 years could be that the total estimated trails project cost times 30% is relatively close to the funding in the 2A ballot language. Many of the grant opportunities have a minimum of a 30% match. Also, it is a nice even number that is similar to the last two times it was committed? I am sure there were different reasons for different council members and it is hard to know exactly why 10 years was the final number chosen.

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

Well, it is a similar length of time as previous BONDS that required a dedicated funding source. It would not have been possible to stop paying on the Haymaker BONDS if the golf course had failed to perform as expected or there were more urgent needs for other projects.

Trails are not a 10 year all or nothing program. If trails are less popular than projected or there are more urgent other projects then there is no reason why trails couldn't be delayed or reduced.

The 10 year commitment is a totally artificial requirement and it is a really bad practice to needlessly make long term financial commitments.

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cindy constantine 1 year ago

Scott--- Could not agree with you more on this issue--I love the trails as do my out-of-town friends. It was a real pleasure to meet you this summer, Eric, in Cow Creek and your passion is obvious. However, a 10 year commitment is too long, especially as a new Council is seated in November. How can we possibly see what the latest "trend" in tourism draws is going to be 5 years from now, much less 10 years from now. Remember the travel $$ lie with the "baby boom" generation and how active are we going to be on Emerald Mountain and elsewhere in the Yampa Valley in 2023. Let us never forget this is OPM even if the tourists are footing the bill!! If this measure fails as it may, believe me, City Council will spend the money--most likely on trails a few projects at a time. We elect them to be good stewards of the money and committing the money for 10 years just makes Council's life easier as they do not have to do the "hard work" necessary to review worthy projects every 2 to 4 years.

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Eric Schneider 1 year ago

The 10 year commitment is a totally artificial requirement and it is a really bad practice to needlessly make long term financial commitments.

While 10 years might be an arbitrary figure (why not nine? or 12?) I think a longer term is necessary for the reasons Eric Meyer has stated in his comments over the past couple weeks. If we're going to support this plan we should actually support it; not provide year-to-year financing that may disappear at any time. A longer term allows the trails group to signal commitment to land managers, secure outside grants and commit to trail projects that only make sense within a larger network. Cutting the term down in the name of flexibility invites short term thinking, planning and the possibility of half-finished connections to nowhere. Furthermore, the vision of Steamboat becoming a world class biking destination is based upon the creation of a comprehensive network of trails. How can you build a year or two's worth of trail projects and then decide whether the idea is a success or failure?

As for Yampa St, the property at the base of 7th St is available now and the three year commitment of $300,000/yr will allow for its purchase. If we don't act on this opportunity we run the very real risk of that property being purchased for commercial use and forever losing the opportunity to create a riverfront park at this site.

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Aryeh Copa 1 year ago

Scott, wouldn't it be nice if your assertion were true, that we, The Trails Alliance,"were in the same position as Senate Democrats to play hardball and win the issue" but alas we are volunteers of a non-profit that were limited to a three minute comment period during city counsel meetings and were never given the chance to re-comment after ballot language was discussed. I see this as a great flaw in the way counsel meetings are conducted. Our comments can only be made at the beginning of the topic discussion and we were not allowed to comment after hearing counsels discussion of the matter at hand. Although we see many problems with the ballot language there was compromise that took place that ultimately is better then the alternative. The ten year commitment allows us to plan long term for trail projects that require an environmental study process, a public comment process, a design process, a bid process and the actual building of each project. Without a multi-year commitment there is little incentive for land managers to work with us on these multi-year projects.
None of us are naive about the fact that there will be a steering committee that decides what projects are prioritized and when. But we have been assured, and will insist, that all steering committee meetings will be open to the public and that we will have some say as to the members of such a committee. You have so much to say now but never showed up at a single one of the city counsel meetings where your comments could have had a positive effect. Instead you draw worst case scenarios to sabotage the hard work of others.

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

The accommodations tax does not go away if measure 2A fails. It just leaves the spending decisions with the city council. The city council will soon enough be making accommodations spending decisions for the accommodations tax even if measure 2a passes because the measure only specifies the spending of the first $660,000 of revenues and that is already less than current revenues.

The hard work of the Trails Alliance and the accommodations tax committee is not wasted if measure 2A fails. It just moves funding from a locked in 10 year commitment to annual funding decisions so that midcourse corrections can be made.

The artificial nature of the 10 year commitment can also be seen by considering what happens if things go wonderfully well. Is the last trail built in the 10th year? Of course not, trail building, if popular and effective, could be a continual program.

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Eric Schneider 1 year ago

What makes you think the city council would choose to fund trails on an annual basis if 2A were to fail? Forgetting for a moment the downsides of short term funding, if people vote against 2A, effectively saying "don't fund these projects", I find it hard to believe the council would then turn around and fund either of those projects.

No, if I were to join you in this guessing game of "what if..." I would say the city council either A) lets the money accrue until the process repeats itself and a new plan is accepted or B) uses the money on projects currently funded through parks and rec, freeing up revenue to use elsewhere (again, until the process is repeated and a new project is accepted). Using the money to fund the very projects that failed to pass the vote? That's near the very bottom of my list of "probable outcomes".

And yes! If and when the trails project goes wonderfully well, we can decide to continue funding trails projects in 10 years! Doesn't that sound great? Who knows, maybe after 10 years of work the trails can be funded on an annual basis since such a comprehensive framework would already be in place.

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John Fielding 1 year ago

It is a little scary to hear that if funding trails for ten years goes well we will have a good basis for continuing to funding them. There are a great many other very worthwhile projects around that also should receive some of this same pie. That is the most compelling reason to reject the ten year commitment.

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Eric Schneider 1 year ago

John, there's nothing in the language that speaks to funding past the 10 year mark. I was making the personal observation that if the trails are a big hit we could choose to continue funding them in the future. Of course if other great projects are being proposed in 10 years the money could just as easily go to them.

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Scott Wedel 1 year ago

I would expect city council to still fund trails if 2A loses because the accommodations tax committee, based upon the merits of the proposals, had picked trails.

Though, it would mean funding on an annual basis so I would expect there would be a review of the effectiveness of trails in a couple of years and whether it is worthwhile to continue funding trails at what level vs alternative projects.

Dedicating funding for 10 years is terrible policy. It removes accountability for the spending of $6.6 million for 10 years.

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