Our View: Before you spend it, get it right
August 13, 2013
Lodging tax vote
City Council needs to be decisive and persuasive Tuesday about the lodging tax issue or carry the debate into the fall election campaign so voters can make their will known in advance.
The Steamboat Springs City Council needs to make a firm decision Tuesday about the future use of Steamboat Springs' lodging tax and make it with conviction lest the voters who will pass judgement on it Nov. 5 lose confidence that this council knows best how to spend an estimated $7 million during the next decade. As it is, any reasonable person might have their doubts.
Council has been working toward a decision for a year now and still seems to be uncertain on the final details of its plan. As recently as Aug. 6, council was prepared to divide about $700,000 in annual revenue between plans to build a variety of new public trails in Steamboat and the vicinity and another plan to create pocket parks along Yampa Street while increasing pedestrian and bicycle friendliness.
We can't blame any members of the public who have reached the point of complete bewilderment about the city's well-intentioned but ultimately tortuous process for rededicating 1 percent of the accommodations tax already obligated to furthering the creation of facilities here to benefit tourism.
We felt certain that the decision would be made Aug. 6 with a plan to split the funds evenly until the downtown project received $900,000, likely after three years. After that time, the remainder of the funds up to $600,000 each year would be used to build the trail projects. But council hesitated again after trails proponents held out the non-vetted possibility that the revenue split might cost the community a shot at a multimillion-dollar grant that holds the promise of extending the Yampa River Core Trail. That prospect could not have been a surprise to city staff. Yet, council postponed the vote for another two weeks, and at this point, we only can guess in what direction they are headed next.
The public vote on the use of the funds is required to bind future city councils to the plan. With four council seats up for grabs on the first Tuesday in November, we're beginning to wonder whether this council shouldn't pass the torch on to its successors.
Yes, that would prolong the debate even longer. But within the context of the election campaign, that action might serve to differentiate among candidates and let the will of the people be known.
The paradox built into the accommodations tax is that while the original ballot language dedicates the monies to tourism, human nature suggests voters would act in their own self-interest in the fall.
So, it's with no small amount of irony that we point out that a significant extension of the Yampa River Core Trail might please the most residents and visitors.
City Council needs to make a definitive statement next Tuesday or back away and let the lodging tax accrue for a year. There's nothing wrong with letting $700,000 accrue while we make certain that we know what we are doing.