Our view: Make Howelsen the beneficiary | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Make Howelsen the beneficiary

At issue:

The Parks and Recreation Commission will make a recommendation to City Council on how to spend excess lodging tax revenue.

Our view:

The tax dollars would be well spent if they were earmarked for improvements at Howelsen Hill.

Faced with a decision on how to spend excess lodging tax dollars, the Steamboat Springs City Council has opted to let the Parks and Recreation Commission make recommendations concerning how that tax money should be spent. And as commissioners begin pondering their options, we’d like to offer our two cents.

In recent months, the future of Howelsen Hill has been at the center of a public debate, and the city is currently renegotiating a joint use agreement with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club that could impact the future of Steamboat’s historic, and iconic, ski hill.

During this process, it’s become clear to us that the city has no plans to shut down Howelsen, but instead must find a way to sustain the ski hill, and we think the existence of unallocated lodging tax dollars provides a funding source the city could tap into to improve and upgrade an important piece of Steamboat history and an amenity that is most definitely a tourist draw.

Voters first approved the 1 percent lodging tax on public accommodations in 1986, and, according to the original ballot language, revenue generated by the tax must be used “to fund development of improvements and amenities in Steamboat Springs, which will promote tourism and enhance the vitality of Steamboat Springs as a premiere destination resort and enhance the community identity, environmental desirability and economic health of Steamboat Springs.”

This description of how the funds are to be used points directly to what Howelsen Hill does for the community of Steamboat Springs, and we think that exact language supports our recommendation for using the funds to make improvements at the hill.

In 2013, voters renewed the lodging tax and voted to dedicate most of the tax revenue collected to area trail projects, the creation of the new Workman Park on Yampa Street, marketing for the new trails and a capital improvement fund at Haymaker Golf Course. And, based on that ballot initiative, any lodging tax revenue in excess of $660,000 collected each year would go into a reserve fund, which can be spent at the council’s discretion as long as it meets the intention of the 1986 ballot language.

According to city officials, there will be more than $750,000 in excess lodging tax revenue available to spend by the end of the year, and, if the trend continues, the fund could reach more than $1 million soon. And we think placing that amount of money into a capital improvement fund for Howelsen, similar to what was done for Haymaker, makes sense.

It would be up to the City Council to determine how those funds would used specifically to improve Howelsen, but we know there’s a long list of ideas already gathered by the city from two recent, well-attended public comment sessions. Commissioners will also have the big job of weighing this recommendation against the host of other proposals that will most likely be submitted by groups seeking access to the excess tax revenue.

Ultimately, we think it would be a beautiful thing if that tax money could be dedicated to Howelsen Hill rather than being used to build something new that the city would have to maintain down the road. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again — we believe the city should focus on setting up a funding mechanism for taking care of the long list of amenities it already owns before adding to that list with new parks and new facilities.

Improving Howelsen seems to be a perfect use for these funds, and we urge the Parks and Recreation Commission to take a serious look at this option and recommend that the City Council allocate the excess lodging tax dollars for this purpose.

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