Steamboat Springs City Concil prepares to decide fate of lodging tax as some express concern over bonding | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Springs City Concil prepares to decide fate of lodging tax as some express concern over bonding

— Eric Meyer describes the Steamboat Springs Trails Alliance’s more than yearlong quest to secure Steamboat Springs’ lodging tax revenue as a road with some unexpected turns.

The group encountered the first major turn when the Steamboat Springs City Council decided to divert from the lodging tax committee’s recommendation to commit 90 percent of the tax to the hiking and biking trails proposed by the Alliance.

They encountered another turn earlier this month when the council indicated it wanted to bond and commit the tax for 20 years to allow the city to fund both the trails and a portion of the Yampa River promenade.

As the council prepares to decide Tuesday night if the city will ask voters whether to approve the bonding and grant 85 percent of the revenue to the trails and 15 percent to the Yampa River promenade, Meyer and other leaders of the trails plans still are very pleased Steamboat is poised to pledge millions to attract more hikers and bikers here.

But they want the council to reconsider the execution of the plan.

"We have told them we don’t think (the 20-year commitment) is the easiest way to go," Meyer said Monday. "I think the 20-year commitment is going to be tough to pass."

What some see as a challenge and not the optimal option, others see as a wise compromise.

The council members who endorsed the bonding and the extended commitment of the tax said it will allow the city to fund two enticing amenities and amounted to a good compromise.

Some even acknowledged the plan would avoid pitting proponents of the promenade and the trails against one another at the ballot box in November.

Meyer, the vice president of Routt County Riders and a co-founder of the Trails Alliance, said the Alliance would prefer that the city either not bond and let cash from the tax accrue annually, or partially bond.

Proponents of the trails also worry voters here will not support the bonding and pledging the tax for two decades.

The city’s proposed ballot language specifically will ask voters to allow Steamboat to generate no more than $8.75 million in debt that would carry a maximum repayment cost of $12.5 million.

As much as $60,000 of the revenue each year would be split between the marketing of the new amenities and capital improvements at the Haymaker Golf Course.

The council will have to approve the ballot language on two readings.

Council member Kenny Reisman said Monday that like Meyer and other community members he’s heard from recently, the bonding and the 20-year commitment concerns him.

"I have concerns about fiscal responsibility and the cost associated with financing this over 20 years, no matter what the project would be," Reisman said. "This has nothing to do with the proposals. Just strictly talking from a financial standpoint, it’s a lot of money to spend for what we’re getting dollars wise."

Proponents of the bonding say it will allow the projects to be started immediately and start attracting tourists to the city.

"It’s a tradeoff between getting the projects done soon and now versus the interest expense you’re going to incur on the money," Council President Bart Kounovsky said.

Kounovsky, who proposed the plan that will appear on the ballot language the council will consider Tuesday, said the bonding and 20-year commitment will allow the trails to receive the full amount of funding that was recommended by the lodging tax committee while also generating about $1 million for the Yampa River promenade.

Meyer said the Trails Alliance has identified several projects in the city and on Emerald Mountain that could be started shortly after the tax is approved.

The council has indicated a steering committee will be responsible for determining how to spend the money.

In the lead up to Tuesday’s decision, the council has received several more letters that either ask for the promenade to receive more funding, or for the city to go all in on the trails.

Meyer said proponents of the trails projects plan to address the council Tuesday night.

"I think we’re sharpening the pencils and trying to get the best thing to maximize the money for the town," Meyer said. "Hopefully, everything works out in the last few minutes."

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com