From bus service cuts to a new police station, take a look back at the Steamboat City Council’s biggest decisions of 2014 | SteamboatToday.com

From bus service cuts to a new police station, take a look back at the Steamboat City Council’s biggest decisions of 2014

Scott Franz

The Steamboat Springs City Council deliberates during a meeting.

— Bus service was cut.

Downtown parking was studied, debated and tweaked.

Yampa Street was made safer and more festive.

From the dais in Citizens Hall, the Steamboat Springs City Council made a lot of important decisions in 2014.

The council kept the ball rolling on what could become the city’s biggest and most expensive capital project in history.

It made sustainability a big focus.

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And once again, it debated issues like city employee pay.

Several decisions made by the council, including the bus service cuts, will continue to be felt in 2015.

Here’s a look back at some of the council’s biggest votes of the year.

Bus schedule cut

Judging by the flurry of calls and letters council members are getting these days from disgruntled local bus riders, the council’s approval of significant cuts to the city’s winter bus schedule could be remembered as its most impactful decision of 2014.

In its last meeting of the year, bus riders from all parts of the city lined up in Citizens Hall to tell the council they had “broken” the bus system by allowing the cuts to the daytime winter schedule to move forward.

Workers on the west end of town are complaining about longer wait times. Other riders are experiencing delays.

And those who depended on the on-call Yellow Line feel cut off.

City Council member Sonja Macys said Wednesday that she had received more calls and emails about the bus service cuts than on any other recent city issue.

The city administration proposed the bus service cuts because it is finding it harder and harder to recruit the seasonal bus drivers needed to run the full service it has offered in previous years.

The city estimates it will save more than $100,000 in personnel and operating costs by running the new service.

Under the new schedule, some parts of the city see improved service while less utilized lines were cut or scaled back.

After some initial concern about the proposed cuts that included the loss of the Yellow Line and longer wait times in west Steamboat, the council ultimately approved them by adopting the city’s 2015 budget in November.

Council member Walter Magill said trying to operate the more expansive bus service offered in previous years could lead to fewer experienced drivers running it and more accidents.

Macys was the only council member to oppose the adoption of the budget. She said she “couldn’t live with the changes to transit.”

The council has requested that the city hold a public open house later this winter to solicit feedback on the bus service changes and to gauge what is working and what is not.

Parking solutions sought

Since parking meters on Lincoln Avenue were ripped up out of the ground and smashed more than 60 years ago, downtown parking has continued to be one of the city’s most passionate and talked about issues.

In 2014, the council decided again to tackle the question of how to make it easier and more convenient to park downtown.

It also focused on pedestrian safety.

The council considered, but narrowly rejected, an idea from member Kenny Reisman to remove 30 to 40 parking spaces from Yampa Street to make it more pedestrian friendly.

The council instead invested $50,000 in infrastructure improvements to make the street safer.

Throughout the year, the council spent several meetings talking about the future of the entire downtown parking system.

During the summer, the city commissioned a $54,000 parking study to help guide future parking decisions.

The council decided to act on some recommendations from the study, including changing parking hours in a large public lot and re-striping to add more parking spaces.

Today, the council still is weighing the recommendations from the study that include parking meters and license plate reading technology for enforcement.

Community members can expect the parking conversation to return to the spotlight in early 2015.

Police station progresses

The city’s nearly 3-year-old project to build a new police station saw a number of developments in 2014.

The council pushed construction funding for the station to 2016, decided not to ask voters whether to build the station and picked a list of three potential building locations for the proposed facility.

A public discussion about the design of the station is on council’s agenda for Tuesday along with an executive session to discuss the possible purchase of a building location.

The city has spent several months vetting the council’s three preferred locations that include a site called Fox Creek off of Hilltop Parkway, a site just south of the Hampton Inn on U.S. Highway 40 and a site owned by Yampa Valley Medical Center at Pine Grove Road and Central Park Drive.

Last month, the council learned that YVMC pulled out of real estate discussions with the city.

City Manager Deb Hinsvark has said the cost of the Fox Creek site also could keep it from becoming the preferred building location.

Downtown improvements ordered

Yampa Street visitors and business owners noticed the roll-out of several improvements in 2014 that were approved by the City Council.

New lights strung above the street have changed the feel of the downtown roadway, and temporary curbs and other infrastructure were added to improve pedestrian safety.

But bigger downtown decisions loom in 2015.

In September, the council decided it needed more time to weigh a proposal that could greatly affect the city’s downtown business district.

The city wants to use an urban renewal authority and tax increment financing to fund millions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure improvements ranging from sidewalks to lighting downtown.

It would be similar to what the city did at the base of Steamboat Ski Area to fund projects like the promenade and daylighting of Burgess Creek, city officials said.

However, when the city discussed the prospect of using tax increment financing downtown, the council appeared to be more skeptical than supportive of the city’s proposal.

The council heard from representatives of other taxing entities like Routt County and the Steamboat Springs School District, which were concerned the proposal would divert tax revenue away from them.

Council members also questioned the designation of downtown as “blighted.”

Some members said they saw potential benefits from the tax tool but wanted more time to consider the impacts.

After a long discussion, the council voted, 4-3, to delay further discussion about the tax tool until the city could report back with a long list of additional information about the proposal.

The council is scheduled to discuss the URA and TIF financing later this month.

Employee pay raises debated

After a long debate, the council held back $264,000 worth of pay raises the city was requesting in the 2015 budget.

Council members who wanted to hold off on the raises said they needed to see the results of a comprehensive study of the city’s pay structure before increasing employee pay to the level the city was requesting.

The members also expressed concern about the sustainability of the raises.

Council members supportive of the raises said they were long overdue after years of furloughs and frozen salaries.

Lodging tax spent

Thanks to the approval of voters in 2013, the council was able to start spending the city’s lodging tax on local trail projects and Yampa Street improvements.

In 2014, the council set up two, seven-member steering committees to help the city decide the best way to spend the lodging tax dollars on both the trails and Yampa Street.

At the recommendation of the Yampa Street committee, the council voted to purchase the Workman property on Yampa with the vision of converting it into a park.

At the recommendation of the trails committee, the council approved a range of trail improvements last year, including the addition of enhanced pedestrian crosswalks across the city.

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

Other council highlights

  • Adopted a new written evaluation form for the city manager
  • Moved the collateral off of the Iron Horse Inn to free it up for possible purchase or redevelopment in the future
  • Approved the first reading of an ordinance that would require all residents to use bear-proof trash containers outside
  • Scrapped a 2009 conceptual plan for the future of Rita Valentine Park
  • Advanced a seven-year strategic plan for the city’s fire and ambulance services

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