Our View: Prepare for turbulence
July 27, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. announced on Tuesday the 2011-12 ski season winter air service program for Yampa Valley Regional Airport. The good news: a 4 percent increase in available passenger seats compared with the 2010-11 program. The bad news: the 122,700 seats still represent a 25 percent decrease from what was available to potential visitors just a few years ago.
The winter air program is essential to the vitality of ski season tourism in Steamboat Springs. We're a destination resort, meaning the majority of our visitors make a concerted effort to travel to Northwest Colorado for a vacation. We simply don't generate the Front Range skier days typical of Interstate 70 resorts like Breckenridge and Vail. Providing commercial air service from key destination markets to YVRA throughout the winter gets people onto the slopes and into our hotels, restaurants and shops. An absence of flights means an absence of tourists, and we all know how that impacts our city and the local economy.
The Steamboat Springs City Council last week approved the first reading of an ordinance that would put to voters a new 0.25 percent sales tax to help underwrite the winter air program. We imagine the council will make it official next week by passing the second and final reading of the ordinance. As well they should.
Voter reaction to the proposed sales tax, which would sunset after five years, is a far riskier proposition, and one we hope the architects of the ballot question don't underestimate. Any tax is a difficult sell given the continued state of the economy. Adding to the challenge facing air program tax supporters is how to educate and convince voters on the merits of the program and what is likely to happen if it goes away. Put simply, the airline program entices airlines to bring jets into YVRA all winter long by guaranteeing each airline a certain amount of revenue for the flights. When the revenues generated by ticket sales and fares don't match what the resort community guaranteed, the program foots the bill for the difference. That bill has grown in recent years, which has resulted in the dwindling away of the airline program's reserves. Those reserves are estimated to be gone by the end of the 2012-13 ski season.
We fully support the airline program, and we understand its significance to bringing visitors to the valley during ski season. It also results in more flight options out of Hayden for full-time and part-time residents.
However, we're not convinced that the 0.25 percent sales tax is the best means for providing the necessary additional funding for the program. Ski Corp. and the Local Marketing District's 2 percent lodging tax currently fund 96 percent of the program. The remaining 4 percent comes from businesses that donate to the Fly Steamboat program. It might be a mistake not to instead explore a 1 percent increase on the Local Marketing District's tax.
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Fortunately, there's still time for a community discussion about the airline program and how best to fund it before the Nov. 1 election results are tallied. Supporters of the 0.25 percent tax certainly have their work cut out.