Steamboat Springs Parks & Rec group would forgive tax on food for 12.5 mills of property tax, $3 million in new taxes | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Springs Parks & Rec group would forgive tax on food for 12.5 mills of property tax, $3 million in new taxes

Parks plan to swap new property tax for food tax







— Members of the working group, charged by Steamboat Springs City Council to study alternative funding sources to satisfy the community's appetite for recreation, are close to proposing the council consider a new 12.5-mill city property tax that could raise $8 million annually.

The plan described at the group's Oct. 3 meeting includes mollifying taxpayers by offsetting the property tax with the forgiveness of $5 million in sales taxes on food and utilities. The plan would net $3 million in new tax monies, which corresponds to the annual budget shortfall for the operations and maintenance at Steamboat Department of Parks and Community Services.

"The only way we can make this palatable to the voters is if you then have a sales tax reduction," working group chairman Doug Tumminello said during an Oct. 3 meeting. "There's no doubt what we're doing here is so fundamental to community development, I think people would pay for it if they understand we will do it wisely."

Before that could happen, there would first be a public vote to create a parks and recreation district, and a second vote to approve the tax changes.

Examples of the tax impact per $100,000 of residential or commercial property valuation are not yet available.

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Among the members of the working group are City Council members Heather Sloop and Scott Ford and Routt County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski. All three were unable to attend Monday night. Ford has done studies of economic impact of parks and recreational facilities and confirms they are a significant attractor to visitors and residents alike.

City Finance Director Kim Weber noted at the working group's September meeting that the grocery and utility taxes represent the city's most stable funding sources and cushioned city revenues during the recession, as other sectors of the economy took bigger hits.

The group has set a goal of preparing a detailed presentation of its concept to present to public groups by November. It will present examples of capital improvement projects that are high on the list, as well as explaining the nitty gritty of less glamorous needs, like extending the lifetime of parks and rec facilities by catching up on deferred maintenance.

And even $3 million in new annual funding won't deliver all of the new rec facilities Steamboat residents crave.

Parks and Community Services Director John Overstreet told the group on the eve of City Council's budget retreat that he feels relatively confident that capital projects including baseball diamond improvements contracted with Triple Crown, replacement of bridge decking along the Yampa River Core Trail, increasing the use of raw water irrigation at parks and LED lighting of the sand volleyball courts at Howlesen Hill, are all likely safe this budget cycle.

Overstreet is also hopeful constructing a new playground in West Lincoln Park and leveraging a grant to pave the balance of the parking lot at the rodeo grounds will make the cut.

"Parked" projects on the Parks and Rec list that are unlikely to get funded are a second sheet of ice at the rink ($4.3 million), completion of Bear River Park and construction of a field house/rec center/teen center ($25 million).

The members of the alternative funding group don't take it for granted that City Council will embrace their proposed distribution of funds resulting from a new 12.5-mill property tax. There is an awareness among the group that council may want a piece of the $3 million.

"The philosophy of this committee has always been there's got to be some give-back," group member and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne said.

Members of the working group will make it a priority to present information about their proposal to business leaders so they can gauge the implications for commercial property owners. An amendment to the Colorado Constitution requires that commercial property assume a greater share of the overall property tax burden than other classes of property.

Group members are also sensitive to how eliminating the tax on groceries might affect the half-percent sales tax collected by the Education Fund Board to support public education here.

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