Lift ticket tax for public transit raised at City Council meeting | SteamboatToday.com

Lift ticket tax for public transit raised at City Council meeting

City Council explores ideas for funding city services

A long line of riders waits to board a Steamboat Springs Transit bus at the base of Steamboat Ski Area in January.

— Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday raised the prospect of asking voters in the coming years to approve a variety of tax proposals to meet new demands and help pay for city services.

Councilman Tony Connell offered the most specific ideas.

Connell wants to ask the electorate in November to approve a tax on lift tickets sold at Steamboat Ski Area to help pay for the local public transportation system, as well as new amenities, such as a teen center, geared toward youth.

"I don't want to wait any longer," Connell said about the lift ticket tax proposal.

Connell did not propose a specific tax rate, but said at least half of the revenue should be dedicated to transit.

In recent years the city's public transportation system has seen cuts in service due to funding limitations and a difficulty in recruiting drivers.

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Council members have also raised the prospect of expanding regional bus service as a way to open more workforce housing opportunities in communities surrounding Steamboat.

When asked Wednesday about the prospect of a lift ticket tax to support transit and youth amenities, ski area spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said the resort would "strongly oppose" the plan.

"The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has always been open to discussing community-wide issues, paying its fair share and working together toward solutions," the ski area wrote in a statement. "However, placing an unfair tax burden and singling out one company is not that solution, and the resort would strongly oppose such a plan."

Connell noted that, in November, voters in Breckenridge overwhelmingly passed a 4.5 percent tax on lift tickets sold at Breckenridge Ski Resort.

The lift ticket tax will provide that resort town with a minimum of $3.5 million each year for transit-related projects.

The town sought the tax to address parking and transportation issues.

Vail Resorts, which owns the ski resort in Breckenridge, agreed to the terms of the proposal before it went to voters.

On Tuesday, Connell also advocated for a tax on recreational marijuana in Steamboat that would go toward youth programming and counseling services.

It's not yet clear if Connell will have enough support from his fellow council members to get the tax questions on the ballot.

Some council members expressed concern about trying to put a proposal together in such a short timeframe.

They also thought city government needs to take some time to define the problems it is facing with its current reliance on sales tax before crafting any ballot questions.

"We need to define the problem before we start prescribing any new taxes," Councilman Scott Ford said.

Council President Walter Magill said tax advisory boards the city has convened in recent years to analyze the city's revenue sources have not recommended Steamboat change its tax structure, which relies on sales tax rather than property taxes.

"It's hard to convince the community that, without some trimming (to city services), we can't get by" with the sales tax, Magill said.

But the council appeared interested in putting a dollar amount on the scope of deferred maintenance the city is facing.

Council members also felt the city could evaluate its level of service and anticipate projected demands for service to help evaluate whether tax proposals are warranted.

"It will take a lot of community forums and messaging to succeed at this," Interim City Manager Gary Suiter said of the prospect of persuading voters to agree to new revenue sources.

The tax proposals from Connell aren't the only ones that could be on the horizon.

A committee that is analyzing alternative funding sources for the city's vast portfolio of parks and recreation amenities is poised to recommend the city ask voters to fund a new parks and recreation district with a new property tax.

The committee has indicated the soonest that proposal could be brought forward is 2017.

Council's discussion about potential tax proposals came during a broad workshop session on crafting a plan to keep the city financially sustainable.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10