Our View: Tax question demands more detail
March 24, 2012
We are intrigued by the news this week that city officials are pursuing a plan to move fire and police stations out of downtown Steamboat while creating a fund to make improvements on Yampa Street.
The plan involves asking voters to approve a temporary city property tax to back a general obligation bond that would fund a new public safety campus on the city's west side.
The idea behind the plan is that moving the fire station and ambulance barn out of downtown would eliminate a traffic hazard and dead spot in the commercial district along the Yampa River. With that accomplished, the municipal buildings, which generate no sales tax and are appraised at $3 million, would be offered for sale. The proceeds then could be channeled to projects to make Yampa Street more appealing to shoppers and diners.
We agree that having fire stations on either end of town is a good idea. We're fans of the vitality that new development on Yampa Street already has brought to the area, and we certainly would like to see that continue.
But there are many questions to be answered before the voters will agree to tax themselves to put the plan into action.
Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark said this week that the estimated $19.5 million cost of a new public safety center was deliberately placed at the "absolutely highest number." And she confirmed that the intent is for the property tax to remain in place for only the length of time needed to retire the bonded indebtedness on the new building.
A Steamboat resident who owns a $500,000 home would pay a property tax of $99.50 per year for the bond if the construction cost came in at the maximum. Hinsvark added that owners of commercial property valued at $1 million could expect to pay $725 annually in taxes to support the bond issue.
Questions that cannot be answered at this time include when the downtown fire/police real estate would sell, what price it might bring and how the proceeds would be funneled into improvements on Yampa.
Sidewalks, curbs, parking and bike lanes for Yampa are addressed in the city's $439,000 downtown streetscapes plan put together by Britina Design Group in May 2007.
However, before they are asked to tax themselves to build the new public safety center, the general public and the business community should be given more details about what kind of public safety building they would get for $15 million to $20 million, and what kind of Yampa improvements $2.5 million to $3 million could buy.
In a July 2011 editorial, we urged the city to begin fleshing out the details of Yampa improvements as a first step to reaching the ultimate goal.
We think that to persuade the voters, the city must make the case that the two very different projects bound up in this initiative can enhance public safety and enhance the local economy sufficiently to justify the financial burden of the temporary property tax.