Our View: With lodging tax revenue, don’t bite the hand that feeds
January 26, 2013
Steamboat Springs' lodging tax committee this week halved the number of finalists vying for annual revenues from a 1 percent tax on nightly resort accommodations, but its toughest work still lies ahead.
Looming next for the committee and the eight remaining finalists are public presentations in March. The volunteer committee composed of two Steamboat Springs City Council members, one public representative and three members of Steamboat's Lodging Association then is expected to recommend one of the proposals to the full City Council, which has the ultimate say in how the $600,000 to $800,000 in annual lodging tax revenues will be spent.
As this Editorial Board did back in July when the tax proposal process began, it's appropriate to remind the community, the committee and the City Council about the history of the lodging tax and the obligation we have to those who pay it.
In 1986, 71 percent of Steamboat voters approved the ballot question implementing the tax. Specifically, the ballot question asked: "Shall the City Council of Steamboat Springs, in order to provide revenues to fund development of improvements and amenities in Steamboat Springs which will promote tourism and enhance the vitality of Steamboat Springs as a premier destination resort, and enhance the community identity, environmental desirability and economic health of Steamboat Springs, enact an ordinance levying a lodging tax of 1 percent on public accommodations of less than 30 days?"
Despite arguments by some that the tax could or even should be used to fund ongoing maintenance of existing facilities and amenities, we think the language of the ballot question clearly specifies the revenues be used "to fund development of improvements and amenities." Further, any projects funded by the tax must clearly "promote tourism and enhance the vitality of Steamboat Springs as a premier destination resort."
So while there were many worthwhile projects presented to the lodging tax committee, many simply don't meet the criteria of the ballot language. For example, the beautification of U.S. Highway 40 medians on the southeast side of Steamboat is a needed improvement, but it doesn't pass the tourism test.
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Similarly, a proposal to fund future capital projects at Haymaker Golf Course, which was built using lodging tax revenues and which has enjoyed exclusive use of those revenues since 1995, also doesn't fit the bill. While we're cognizant of the ongoing maintenance costs associated with new capital projects that fall under the city's umbrella, we strongly believe those amenities must put in place a fee structure or financing plan that allows for self-sufficiency. At Haymaker, which is a fantastic municipal golf facility but never has lived up to its billing as a tourism driver, that very well could mean continued increases in greens fees for locals and visitors.
As much as each of us has our biases about which of the current proposals might have the most beneficial impact on our own lives, the lodging tax committee must remain focused on determining which project best meets the criteria of the ballot language. Lest we forget, amenities constructed using revenues from the lodging tax must have a strong potential to increase tourism here, which not only benefits the folks who pay the tax in the first place but also will help ensure future stability — and perhaps even growth — in that revenue stream.