City Council asks Ski Corp. for money to avoid making deep cuts to public transit
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Public transit is one area of the city of Steamboat Springs’ budget that is facing big cuts due to COVID-19 impacts, but the city is now looking to Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. for potential solutions to maintain funding and service.
Officials from Ski Corp. and its parent company, Alterra Mountain Co., provided an update on resort operations to the Steamboat Springs City Council at its regular meeting Wednesday with transit being a major point of discussion.
With declining general fund revenue because of the pandemic, the city plans to cut its transit service by at least 20% beginning this fall. There would be a number of significant changes for passengers, particularly the elimination of all service on Sundays and reduced hours of nightly service.
Sarah Jones, sustainability and community engagement director for Ski Corp., presented the resort’s idea of developing an innovative transportation task force, bringing together the “top minds” in the community to work on solutions.
“Let’s explore out-of-the-box transportation solutions,” Jones said, which she said could include anything from moving to fully electric buses to constructing a gondola from downtown to the mountain.
Rob Perlman, president and COO of Ski Corp., acknowledged there are many inefficiencies in the current transportation system, which was not limited to the city’s transit service but also included resort and private shuttles.
“We need to take a broader view to transportation,” Perlman told the council members. He suggested those conversations start immediately.
Council Member Kathi Meyer said the city has already had those conversations with the resort.
“I remember you saying the same thing in the chamber three years ago,” Meyer said to Perlman.
At that time, according to Meyer, the resort requested the city not move forward with seeking a lift tax, and Ski Corp. would return with a “meaningful contribution.” Meyer said she expected that contribution to be seven figures. But it never came, she said.
Council members expressed great concern about potentially having to seriously decrease transit service offered by the city.
Jonathan Flint, director of the city’s transit service, reviewed the proposed cuts, which he said would force about a 60% reduction in passengers for 2020-21.
The biggest change would come with the elimination of the Blue and Orange lines. That alone represents 50% of the total proposed reductions.
“Almost 300,000 people would need to find alternative travel lines to complete their trip,” Flint told council.
Nightly service hours would also be reduced, with buses ending service at 11 p.m. Flint said that could have a potential impact on employees of restaurants and bars and their patrons.
And, most drastically, Flint detailed the discontinuing of all service on Sundays in the spring and fall seasons. There would also be “major reductions” in the summer, according to Flint. Those have yet to be determined.
The city would need about $122,000 to restore Sunday service for spring and fall next year, Flint estimated.
Considering the steep cuts, Council Member Sonja Macys outright asked Perlman if Ski Corp. would give $2 million to the city.
“When you’re talking about singling out the resort — I’d have to talk it through with the team before giving a solid answer,” Perlman responded.
According to Perlman, Ski Corp. already makes a voluntary annual $400,000 contribution to the city that is supposed to be earmarked for transit and considered “above and beyond” the sales tax it already pays.
From mid-March to early June, Ski Corp. earned zero revenue, according to Perlman, while still paying expenses. During that time, the resort didn’t cease its community contributions, including handing out over 6,000 free meals to the public, continuing its scholarship program and hosting a special tribute for local graduating seniors. The resort then opened for its summer season June 26.
Council had previously discussed putting the question of creating a lift tax on the ballot. The consensus was that this year was not the right time, considering the pandemic’s impacts. There also was an idea for a tax on timeshares, which Perlman said Ski Corp. supports.
“We’re absolutely supportive of a timeshare tax that taxes those properties where the majority of their stay is not paid for,” he said. “Those properties are not contributing by any means.”
With Ski Corp. not offering a definitive answer about making a contribution to the city to assist with transit, council moved to place Council Members Michael Buccino and Macys on a special transportation committee, with council member Lisel Petis serving as alternate. That committee would engage in direct talks with Ski Corp. on short- and long-term solutions to transit issues.
“We need to think way bigger, way more long term,” Petis said.
Council Member Heather Sloop pressed council to ensure an actionable plan is ready by the committee not too long after the new year so the issue doesn’t stall.
Proposed cuts to transit will continue to be evaluated ahead of the city’s 2021 budgeting process beginning in October.
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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