Steamboat Parks and Recreation Commission candidates talk about city funding challenges

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— Candidates vying for a seat on this city’s Parks and Recreation Commission on Tuesday night talked about their desire for the commission to start tackling some bigger-picture issues.

Some members also said during their interviews for the job that they were open to the idea of exploring a new way of funding the city’s vast portfolio of recreational amenities.

Steamboat Springs City Council members asked prospective commission members about their views on such things as a possible parks and recreation taxing district and whether they’d want the commission to dive back into master plans for Rita Valentine and Bear River parks.

Kara Givnish, who earned another term on the commission after her interview, was one of two returning commissioners who said the group is ready to take on a bigger role.

“We would like to be more proactive,” Givnish said. “We’d like to do some higher-level visioning than the day-to-day of hearing that this vendor would like to come to this park.”

Returning commission member JoEllen Heydon also shared a desire for the commission to have a bigger impact.

“We’ve done all this work. We’re listening to all these people. We’re making an educated decision, but is our decision really being heard?” she said.

The commissioner candidates also talked about the current funding of the department and its amenities, and how they thought these could be improved in the future.

Council member Tony Connell asked candidate Doug Tumminello what he would think if the city’s parks and recreation department became its own taxing district and separated from the city.

“All options should be on the table,” Tumminello said. “A special district makes a lot of sense. Lots of parks and recreation (departments) use that model. I think it certainly does raise the ability to raise capital and revenue for a district. Is that the best option here? That’s a very legitimate question.”

He said the greatest challenge for the city would be the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of existing infrastructure.

During his interview with the council, new Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Director and commission candidate Jim Boyne also raised the possibility of proposing a new parks and recreation taxing district.

He said the city’s current reliance on sales tax revenue to fund and maintain its amenities, including ones that are parks and recreation related, “probably is not a good planning tool for the long term.”

He said before other funding sources are considered, the city needs to come up with a vision for the amenities, including for Howelsen Hill.

“The planning has to be strategic, but also how you approach the community and suggest funding is going to be a critical part of that,” Boyne said.

Talk of a new source of funding for city parks and recreation amenities isn’t new in Steamboat.

In 2002, the Steamboat City Council seriously considered asking voters for a property tax increase that would have raised an estimated $1.1 million for operations and maintenance of the entire Howelsen sports complex.

That council decided against the tax question because a number of other tax questions and initiatives already were on the ballot.

A parks and recreation taxing district has not been discussed by the current City Council.

After the six-minute interviews with the candidates, the council appointed Givnish, Alan Koermer, Heydon and Tumminello to the commission.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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