Our View: A gift that should keep on giving
July 24, 2012
The city of Steamboat Springs has an obligation to live up to the language of the 1986 ballot question that implemented a 1 percent lodging tax. That means identifying and funding new amenity projects that will enhance Steamboat's ability to attract guests and business.
It's therefore encouraging that a city-formed committee has completed the first in a three-step process that should result in the Steamboat Springs City Council deciding on one or more projects that will be the beneficiaries of the accommodations tax revenues beginning in 2014. That's the year the funds will be freed up after years of being dedicated to expiring the debt for the construction of Haymaker Golf Course and its clubhouse.
The city's recent request for ideas on how to spend the $600,000 to $800,000 collected annually by the accommodations tax received significant response. There was a total of 38 submissions, running the gamut from an ice skating rink at the base of Steamboat Ski Area to a mountain bike ride center to purchasing new open space parcels. And while there were certainly ideas that either don't pass the sniff test (opening new travel markets to Latin America) or simply are too ridiculous to entertain (the Steamboat Springs School District's proposal for an athletic field house and an additional turf field), others represent intriguing and logical projects that would fulfill the intent of the ballot question.
Seventy-one percent of Steamboat voters approved the new tax in 1986. 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?"
It's not surprising that 26 years later, the intent of the ballot question and the potential uses of the tax revenues are being debated by community members and city officials. Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark, for instance, suggests the tax collections be used to support existing city infrastructure and not go toward building new amenities that will require ongoing maintenance costs.
It's certainly appropriate to question the city's existing operations and maintenance obligations, and the City Council ought to put a sharp eye on the new amenity proposals and their long-term impact to the city's capital budget. But the ballot language of the 1986 accommodations tax makes clear that revenues are to be used "to fund development of improvements and amenities." It's a difficult argument to make that paying for upkeep on existing projects qualifies as development of new ones.
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Further, the city has an obligation to use the 1 percent accommodations tax revenues to fund projects that ultimately will benefit the folks paying the tax in the first place. Fortunately for Steamboat residents, projects that benefit visitors typically benefit locals, as well, a point underscored by a quick scan of the list of project ideas submitted to the city in the past month.
Steamboat and its residents have made it clear that we're perfectly content to fund our city almost entirely through sales taxes because we like the idea that guests are helping to pick up the tab for government services as well as numerous city-owned amenities. The way to help grow that tax base throughout time is to improve the number of amenities that attract new and returning visitors as well as location-neutral businesses and others seeking the high quality of life offered by our resort town. The accommodations tax revenues, as intended by voters, is a wonderful gift for helping us accomplish just that.