Our View: This pie should be eaten whole
April 17, 2012
There will be no shortage of special interest groups clamoring for their shot at soon-to-be-available revenues from the city's 1 percent lodging tax. The challenge now facing the committee tasked with selecting a recipient for the tax dollars is to identify a worthy project that significantly will improve the Steamboat Springs experience for visitors and residents alike.
What should be avoided is divvying up the revenue pie into small pieces for multiple initiatives. We fear that doing so significantly would dilute the impact those dollars can have in the community.
The 1 percent lodging tax — often referred to as the accommodations tax — is assessed only to short-term guests of Steamboat lodging properties. In other words, residents do not pay the tax. It was approved in 1986 by 71 percent of city voters, and its revenues have been used to build the original Strings Music Festival tent, the Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs and, most recently, Haymaker Golf Course and its new clubhouse. The city's debt obligations on Haymaker expire in 2013, meaning the tax dollars will be available for other uses beginning in 2014.
In 2011, the tax generated $635,000. It typically generates between $650,000 and $800,000 depending on the strength of the economy.
The tax question approved by voters in 1986 states that the tax would "provide revenues to fund development of improvements and amenities in Steamboat Springs which (sic) will promote tourism and enhance the vitality of Steamboat Springs as a premiere (sic) destination resort, and enhance the community identity, environmental desirability and economic health of Steamboat Springs."
A number of groups already have expressed interest in using the tax revenues. Haymaker and Tennis Center officials previously have suggested using at least some portion of the tax to fund operating costs and/or future capital needs at their facilities. Groups like Old Town Hot Springs and the Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association also previously have expressed interest in the tax revenues. Infrastructure improvements related to the Bike Town USA Initiative and a second sheet of ice at Howelsen Ice Arena similarly have been floated as potential uses of the money.
Whichever proposals come forward likely will need the support of the lodging community, which gets three of the five seats on the committee the city is creating to recommend future expenditures of the accommodations tax revenues.
We're not surprised by the immense interest in the annual revenues generated by the tax, but the city and its new committee must remember those funds are a gift to be used wisely. The projects previously funded by the tax significantly have improved our community, and the next project needs to do the same.
We strongly urge the committee to identify and settle on a very visible and sizable project that will provide the community the kinds of economic benefits visualized by voters when they passed the tax 26 years ago.