Routt County commissioners say no thanks to parks district beyond Steamboat city limits
Steamboat Springs — A committee that has been exploring other ways of funding the region’s vast portfolio of parks and recreation amenities made a case Monday for why the city should look into forming a new government that could oversee parks spending and levy an additional tax.
But right off the bat, the size of a potential parks and recreation district was restricted to Steamboat Springs city limits, when Routt County commissioners said they would not support a district that included any taxpayers in the county.
The commissioners questioned whether county residents would see any benefit from a district, when most of the funding and control of the recreation amenities would reside in the city limits.
Despite the restriction on the district’s size, the committee is ready to continue pursuing the idea as a way to solve a city budget problem that is holding back master plans for parks and making it harder to maintain community icons such as Howelsen Hill.
In a 17-page report detailing its findings and recommendations, the committee of elected officials, residents and recreation enthusiasts claimed the city of Steamboat currently has a $692,000 operating shortfall in its Parks and Community Services Department budget as well as a $1.33 million shortfall in deferred maintenance.
The numbers are higher if unfunded capital projects, such as extensions to the Yampa River Core Trail, are factored in.
Committee Chairman Doug Tumminello said the city has an expanding inventory of parks and recreation amenities but a shrinking pool of resources to maintain everything.
“We also have plans to build over $5 million of new trails over the next decade, and that’s going to take more money and effort to maintain,” Tumminello told elected officials at a joint meeting of Steamboat Springs City Council and the commissioners on Monday.
The committee is recommending the city explore the creation of a new parks and recreation district, which would ultimately be a new branch of government run by a board of elected officials, to oversee the amenities and the budget.
To fund improvements and to better maintain existing amenities, the committee is also recommending the city from a foundation and also explore a potential tax increase.
Possible revenue sources include sales, property and excise taxes.
Parks and recreation districts are most commonly funded by property tax revenue and user fees.
If a property tax is pursued, the committee would recommend the city offset the additional tax burden by reducing city sales tax.
The committee was interested in looking into the prospect of a district that extended some ways beyond the city limits to areas such as Steamboat II, Tree Haus and Heritage Park.
One possibility was a district that went as far as the urban growth boundary.
However, Routt County commissioners were unanimous in their opposition to such a proposal.
“I just don’t think the win is worth the cost,” Commissioner Doug Monger said during a lengthy rebuttal to the idea.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he hadn’t heard from any of his constituents in South Routt County who would like to be part of a new parks and recreation district.
Commissioner Cari Hermacinski noted that members of City Council are elected to “walk a tight rope” when it comes to approving the budget, and it is council’s mission to decide what are “must-have” requests and “want-to-have” requests.
The joint meeting Monday ended before City Council members had a chance to weigh in on the recommendation.
Council resolved to discuss the committee’s findings and give it some direction at an upcoming meeting.
For the idea of a parks and recreation district to advance, it would need council’s blessing. It would then be up to voters to decide whether to form the new government.
The potential funding for the district would be taken up in a separate ballot question.
Read the committee’s report and analysis of funding options below:
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