Steamboat’s Yampa Valley Housing Authority votes to seek tax hike
Housing Authority votes, 6-1, on Thursday to move ahead with ballot question
February 11, 2011
By the numbers
Annual cost of a 0.55 mill levy
Property Value: $300K
Property Value: $500K
Property Value: $1M
Source: Routt County Assessor’s Office
Steamboat Springs — The Yampa Valley Housing Authority's board of directors voted, 6-1, on Thursday to go to the voters in fall with a property tax proposal that would generate about $395,000 a year.
Board members say the new tax would provide sufficient funding to support the Housing Authority's annual operations, expand counseling for families struggling to find affordable housing, bolster a down payment loan fund and set aside funds for future projects. The 0.55-mill tax also would generate $50,000 to support land acquisition and operations for Routt County Habitat for Humanity.
"We're missing an opportunity to be proactive" in our mission to provide work force housing, board member Catherine Carson said. "In Steamboat Springs, we've been reactive. Right now, there is a need in Steamboat Springs for affordable rentals. … Our renters are paying 50 percent of their income on housing."
The tax would add $21.89 to the annual bill of a homeowner with property valued at $500,000 for tax purposes. The bill would be $79.75 for the owner of a $500,000 commercial property.
The tax would not apply to all county taxpayers — just those whose property lies within the boundary of the district. That district includes the city of Steamboat and the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District minus unincorporated Milner. The tax would sunset after seven years and could not remain in place longer without another vote of approval.
The question of taking the tax question forward passed, 6-1, with board member Kristi Brown dissenting. She promised to support the campaign. Board members who voted in favor were President Rich Lowe, Carson, Trish Sullivan, Scott Myller, John Spezia and Johnny Sawyer.
Board members Nancy Stahoviak, Ed MacArthur, Bob Kauffmann and Jennifer Robbins were not present.
Brown told her fellow board members she was concerned that 2011 is not the right time to go for a property tax increase.
"I think this is a tough sell in the best of times. This is probably the worst time to go for a tax," Brown said. "I really would like to hear from the city and county whether they feel this is a time to go. The only reason I'm willing to support this is I feel an obligation to try for the sake of the city and county. If the city and county felt it was a silly waste of time and money to try, I'd be very relieved."
Brown was alluding to the fact that the intergovernmental agreement between the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County that created the Housing Authority anticipated that it would have become fiscally autonomous many years ago.
Lowe said he, too, was mindful of an obligation to local government to at least try to become self-funding.
"The city and county have told us the affordable housing fund will run dry in a year or two, so 'when are you guys going to find that sustainable funding source?'" Lowe said. "There's never going to be a good time (to ask for a property tax increase). If we wait, we could end up kicking this can down the road forever. To go back and say, 'We're getting negative feedback, so we're not going to stick our necks out' — I have a hard time with that."
Sullivan said she understood Brown and Lowe's points of view.
"I share Kristi's concerns, but I think it's time to ask the voters," she said.
Brown asked board members what strategy they would pursue if the tax measure were to be rejected by the voters, and she urged that question to be raised in the campaign.
"What if it fails?" Brown asked. "I think this is going to be a referendum on affordable housing, whether it should be or not. If we can't be what we want to be, should we be anything at all?"
Lowe said in that circumstance, the board could choose to continue on with limited funding or pursue an exit strategy that would turn its assets over to the city.
Spezia said one of the lessons learned by both sides of the Steamboat 700 annexation campaign in March 2010 is that it's necessary to appeal to voters with rational and emotional arguments.
"I'm pessimistic," he said. "Facts are great, but this is an emotional gut thing, not just a fact thing. The knee-jerk 'no to taxes' vote will be bigger this year."
Myller, who said that as an architect he sometimes feels like a developer, predicted that the local development community might embrace the tax.
"I think developers would like to have the whole community participate in (a tax for affordable housing), not just the last person in," Myller said.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com