Mainstreet Steamboat Springs contemplates district property tax
December 23, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Mainstreet Steamboat Springs is likely to go back to property owners, business owners and residents of the downtown commercial district to ask for a new property tax to help fund its operations.
The initiative is being renewed five years after a similar effort in 2007 failed by just a half-dozen votes.
"That was heartbreaking," Mainstreet Steamboat Board President Bill Moser said Thursday. "I was an election judge and we had several ballots that were disqualified, and each one hurt."
Moser said that confronted with a $10,000 shortfall to bring back the highly visible flower baskets that grace downtown each summer and with the city of Steamboat Springs steadily weaning Mainstreet Steamboat off its budget, his board of directors is hopeful of starting anew and putting the question on the November 2012 ballot.
There were just 165 ballots cast in 2007, but the makeup of the district has changed in the interim and things will be different this time around, Moser predicted.
First, he expects the district to seek a tax that would sunset after a period of years instead of a permanent tax. His board also knows that while the district's valuation has grown with new commercial spaces in mixed-use buildings that dot the south side of Lincoln Avenue, that growth has come with a new group of residential owners who won't be taxed but are eligible to vote.
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If approved, the tax would affect the tax bills of only a relative handful of commercial property owners within the business improvement district. With that in mind, Mainstreet has embraced the new responsible hospitality initiative that advocates for downtown events to be of a nature that doesn't unduly disturb residents.
"It's important that downtown be livable and important that Mainstreet supports that," Moser said.
However, Mainstreet Manager Tracy Barnett said business owners and residents of the district bounded roughly by the area defined by Third Street to 13th Street east to west and the Yampa river north to the alley beyond Oak Street all would be eligible to vote in the election.
Questions like "How much money does Mainstreet want to raise?" and "How much would taxes be increased?" don't yet have answers, Moser said. He said a budget would be developed and compared to the district's property valuation, and then a mill levy amount sufficient to raise funds to cover the budget would be determined. The emphasis would be on retaining Barnett in a climate where funding for Mainstreet is expected to continue to decline, and on adding an employee to grow special events like the weekly farmers markets each summer, Moser added.
Barnett said proceeds from business improvement districts are not eligible for funding capital projects but could be used to leverage a bond issue. More typically, they are used for marketing, promotion and event funding. They also can be used to increase public safety — some urban business improvement districts hire their own security patrols, but that's not being contemplated here, Moser said.
Mainstreet always was intended to stand on its own in terms of funding, and in recent years the city has cut its support of the entity from $63,000 to $40,000.
The annual cost of purchasing and maintaining the flower baskets that hang up and down Lincoln Avenue all summer is $10,000, Moser said. The city cut that expense from its 2012 budget.
Moser said the 2011 budget for Mainstreet was $140,000 in 2011, with the amount over and above city support coming from dues from member businesses and the proceeds from Mainstreet-sponsored events.
"The farmers market is a money-making deal for us," Moser said. "And the Chili Challenge was a greater fundraiser this year. In its third year, Sisters in Steamboat broke even for the first time."
Passage of a small property tax would represent a more equitable way to fund Mainstreet because not all commercial property owners and businesses are dues-paying members, Moser said. A tax would spread a broader net to bring everyone into the fold, he explained.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com