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3-2-1 gone

Failure of sales-tax question may have major effect on flights into the valley

— Voters in Steamboat Springs withheld the boarding pass Tuesday for a sales tax to fund ski season jet flights. Referendum 2A was defeated after it received just 42 percent of the vote.

Steamboat Ski Area President Chris Diamond said Tuesday night the failure of the tax question could jeopardize a portion of this winter’s jet schedule.

“The first step will be to hold an emergency meeting of the Transportation Support Fund and reassess the viability of this year’s program,” Diamond said.

Diamond said the business community has yet to collect several hundred thousand dollars pledged to last winter’s jet program by individual businesses. Given the current economic situation in the United States, it’s clear that money, and perhaps a portion of the funds pledged to this year’s program, won’t be forthcoming, Diamond said.

This winter’s ski season airline program budget totals more than $2.3 million. The Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. agreed to increase its support from $1.4 million last year to $1.55 million. The budgeted contribution from the Steamboat Springs Transportation Support Fund, representing other business sectors, was targeted for $750,000.

Referendum 2A, more commonly known as the 3-2-1 tax, would have imposed a scale of sales taxes targeted at tourist industries. The tax could have raised up to $2.8 million next year.

Of the monies collected, 20 percent or $500,000, whichever is higher would have gone to fund local transit.

The tax would have imposed an additional 3 percent sales tax on lift tickets, including season passes. It would have imposed an additional 2 percent on lodging, sporting goods equipment rentals and outdoor recreational activities, and 1 percent on restaurant sales.

Steamboat residents currently pay 8.49 percent sales tax on goods and services. Of that, 4.5 percent is city sales tax. There is also an existing single point of city sales tax on lodging.

Had the tax passed, the ski corp. had agreed to contribute $500,000, adjusted annually for inflation, toward future winter airline schedules.

Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall said the failure of the tax measure will cause the business community to take a fresh look at the future of the airline program.

“We are truly disappointed that less than 51 percent of the city voters could support Referendum 2A, the 3-2-1 Transportation Tax,” Evans-Hall said. “We will also need to look at options for future air service.”

The tax was devised by members of the business community with the intent of creating a stable source of funds for the flight guarantees. For the past two years, the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association has sought voluntary contributions from its members to help the ski corp. reach the targeted guarantee levels.

Ski corp. officials have consistently said that because the resort only realizes roughly 30 percent of the tourist dollars generated by the flights, they can’t continue to be the sole supporter of the guarantee program.

The transportation committee tweaked the tax proposal until it believed it had structured it to have minimal impact on local residents, thus making it more palatable.

Proponents of the new tax tried to sell it to voters by pointing out that someone who purchased a season ski pass and spent $2,000 would pay only $50 in additional sales tax.

Opponents of the 3-2-1 tax didn’t assault its provisions directly. Instead they framed it in the larger context of the ongoing community debate about the use of public funds to attract tourists and the role tourism plays in growth.

However, John Spezia, one of those opponents, said Tuesday night he won’t draw the conclusion that the “no” votes on 2A were a vote against growth.

“I can list the things it might mean, but I can’t know what was in the minds of the voters,” Spezia said. He did, however, take away some meaning from the relative closeness of the City Council races. Spezia concluded that people of varying points of view on the council races agreed they didn’t want to subsidize airlines.


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