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Rob Douglas: A separate government from the city

This summer, momentum is gathering to repurpose existing local taxes while simultaneously creating new tax burdens for residents and businesses in Steamboat Springs and Routt County.

Specifically, from the creation of a second Urban Renewal Authority plan area in Steamboat Springs that would repurpose existing taxes from Routt County and the Steamboat Springs School District to address "blight" in downtown Steamboat, to the creation of a Business Improvement District tax on commercial property owners within the BID's downtown Steamboat boundaries, to the creation of a county-wide (or smaller) parks and recreation district with the power to tax properties within the district, there is increasing movement toward restructuring and increasing taxes across the city and county.

Providing impetus, the Steamboat Springs City Council voted this week to empower the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission to "have a conversation" about the potential creation of a parks and recreation taxing district or, as Steamboat Springs City Manager Deb Hinsvark called it, "a total separate government from the city." That "conversation" will begin at Wednesday's commission meeting with a presentation by Steve Russell, executive director of the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District.

Prior to the vote, council member Sonja Macys (the only no vote) expressed concern that substantive discussions — including promises of funding — about the creation of a parks and recreation district that could entail changes in the city's tax structure were underway absent direction from the City Council.

"Well, I'm a little uncomfortable with it. The reason is, and I've said this on the record before, I've heard promises being made to one user group or another user group as far as we're going to move forward with this parks and recreation district. And certain board members of certain nonprofits have been told that their nonprofit will be included as an organization that will receive funding from this," Macys said. "This is a change in a taxation structure potentially if we were to take on a parks and rec district. And that is something that this council really should be looking at as opposed to having it being sprinkled out in the community with promises being made before the council has had a chance to have a discussion about it, in my opinion."

After council President Pro-Tem Scott Myller concurred with Macys' view that the potential creation of a parks and recreation taxing district falls within the purview of the City Council as opposed to the Parks and Recreation Commission, City Manager Deb Hinsvark pushed back.

"I would disagree with that because a park and rec district is its own separate government. It could form all around us without including us at all if it wanted to. I think this particular parks and rec district — and I know what you're talking about as far as promises," looking at Macys, "no promises were made to anyone that I'm aware of, to any nonprofit, but there is a possibility that nonprofits could become a part of this if it went that far — but this particular parks and rec district sounds like it wants to incorporate the city's parks department and assets into it," Hinsvark said. "Nonetheless, it still would be a genesis of a parks and rec group. It would be their decision to put together an entire plan, to bring it back to you as the governing body to determine whether to put it on an agenda for a vote of the people. And whether you (the council) would be willing to give up your city assets to form this new government if that was the case. But it's absolutely, in my mind, it's absolutely the parks and rec district's purview to take a look at this and see if it's a government they want to pursue. And it is a total separate government from the city."

It seems odd that Hinsvark advised the council to take a hands-off approach while public discussions get underway (private talks have been taking place for months) about something as consequential as the creation of a "separate government from the city."

After all, that separate government — a parks and recreation district — would compete with the city for future tax increases.

Then again, maybe that's the goal.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @RobDouglas3