City of Steamboat, Routt County explore funding law enforcement building with sales tax | SteamboatToday.com

City of Steamboat, Routt County explore funding law enforcement building with sales tax

— Routt County commissioners and a delegation from Steamboat Springs City Council agreed informally Monday to explore the possibility of seeking voter approval for a temporary countywide sales tax to fund construction of a new combined police and sheriff's facility on Shield Drive on the city's west side.

The amount of a new sales tax has not been determined. During the discussion, the revenue-raising potential of a .5 percent and a 1 percent tax was discussed.

A tax levy of .5 percent, for example, has the potential to raise more than $20 million during an eight-year period to back bonded indebtedness on the construction project. A 1 percent tax would raise the same amount in four years, potentially realizing savings in interest costs.

The estimate is based on historic receipts from the county's existing 1 percent sales tax, which has raised about $5 million annually.

Because it would be a countywide tax, Routt County would collect it, and it would not apply to food or utility bills.

The conversation took place during a morning work session at the Routt County Courthouse with newly elected City Council President Walter Magill and council member Scott Ford sitting down with county commissioners Cari Hermacinski, Doug Monger and Tim Corrigan.

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"I think this could be a good solution," to funding and cost-sharing on the facility, Magill said. "This a big breakthrough, I think for us."

Magill emphasized that the concept of the tax must still be introduced to the rest of the council members, something that will take place during a Dec. 8 public work session. City Council is already scheduled to meet in regular sessions on Dec. 1 and 15.

"We're thinking in this direction, but we need to take the temperature of the council," Ford said.

The possibility of funding the shared law enforcement facility came up Nov. 9 as the county commissioners talked about the Nov. 3 election results and Monger observed that voters in other jurisdictions had passed similar sales taxes.

The first priority, Monday's working group agreed, is to reach a memorandum of understanding before the end of the first quarter of 2016 that would govern how the city and county would share costs and facilities at the new building at Shield Drive going forward. Corrigan believes reaching that goal is ambitious.

"An MOU getting done by January or February? Yeah, that's possible, but I think there's a lot of work to be done," he said.

Hermacinski said she would immediately obtain a copy of the MOU between the city of Craig and Moffat County that governs their existing shared facility. Ford ventured that as much of 80 percent of that MOU might be easy for Steamboat and Routt to agree upon, with the remaining 20 percent taking up 80 percent of the two elected bodies' negotiations.

The decision to build a shared facility was reached Aug. 4 after a citizens task force, assembled by the city, strongly recommended a shared facility was the best choice for moving forward on city plans, which have been in gestation for more than three years.

At the time, Steamboat Today quoted Ford as saying, "You've led us out of the wilderness," in acknowledging the committee’s work.

City officials have consistently said they have $8.8 million in their budget to build a new police facility. City Finance Director Kim Weber confirmed Monday that the capital improvements list still shows $8.8 million for the police facility in the 2017 budget.

Routt County has funds on hand, Corrigan said, but they are committed to other purposes. Hermacinski told Sheriff Garrett Wiggins in a Monday work session, that without a joint project, the county might be limited to making needed expansions to his facility through modest building additions through a period of years.

Monger theorized the city and county together might be able to land a grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs for as much as $2 million to help fund the project.

Magill said a sales tax would also leave more funds in city coffers to carry out infrastructure improvements in downtown Steamboat.

Monger asked the others if they thought it would be wise for both elected boards — the county commission and city council — to scrub the wished-for facilities in an effort to look for possible cost savings.

Hermacinski agreed.

"If we take something to the voters, they'll want to know that we scrubbed it,” she said.

She suggested that the city consider re-engaging the citizens committee that provided some of the impetus for the two public bodies landing on a shared facility. Ford and Magill were in agreement.

One scenario is that the county could ask the voters for approval of the tax in November 2016 to allow a construction start in 2017.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

At a glance

• The next step: working toward a memorandum of understanding between the city and county for building and operating a new shared law enforcement

• The tax strategy will be introduced at a Dec. 8 City Council work session

• No decisions have been taken

• A county-wide sales tax would apply to the city of Steamboat Springs as part of Routt County and would not apply to groceries or utility bills

• No amount for a possible sales tax has been established