Routt County residents consider the issues at election forum on local ballot measures | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County residents consider the issues at election forum on local ballot measures

Routt County residents listen as members of the Steamboat Citizens to Ensure Air Service campaign committee and Scott Ford discuss why voters should — or should not— approve a 0.2 percent sales tax in the city of Steamboat Springs, which would be used to entice airlines with payments to keep up direct flights to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

Editor’s note: This story was corrected at 10 a.m. Oct. 11 to reflect that Jessica Reagon said Amendment 73 would raise per-pupil funding by $1,500.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — About 175 people gathered in The Steamboat Grand for an election forum on state and local ballot measures. People representing those in favor of and opposed to measures spoke about why — or why not — Routt County voters should approve each measure.

Referendum 2A

Referendum 2A would implement a 0.2 percent sales tax, which would be used to entice airlines with payments to keep up direct flights to the Yampa Valley Regional Airport and would sunset after 10 years.

The tax is similar to a previous, 0.25 percent sales tax that reached sunset without renewal in 2016.

Mark Walker, president of Resort Group and Steamboat Citizens to Ensure Air Service campaign committee member, said the committee did not seek to renew the tax in 2016 "because it was the right thing to do" as revenue from the tax had built up a reserve that allowed the air subsidies to continue without the tax. The number of direct flights to Yampa Valley Regional Airport increased from 7 to 15 between 2011 and this year.

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"Because of these additional routes and the addition of Jet Blue, these reserves will be depleted in 2019," he said.

Scott Ford, spoke not as a Steamboat Springs City Council member but representing his views as an economist. He opposes the measure. He said the Steamboat Citizens to Ensure Air Service campaign committee should bring forward a different solution that places more of the tax burden on those who benefit from it.

"The average winter visitor spends $1,345 during in their stay. Of that, 44 percent is spent on lodging and 24 percent is spent with the ski area," he said. "Why are the businesses that receive almost 70 percent of every visitor dollar asking the locals for money to help them?"

"Saying ‘no’ on 2A does not mean the end of air service into the Yampa Valley," he added. "Voting ‘no,’ however, sends the supporters of 2A back to the drawing board to find another way."

Rob Pearlman, president of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and a member of the Air Service committee, argued that losing funds to support air service would reduce flights by about 10 to 15 percent, eliminating about 10,000 passengers and decreasing tourist's spending in the community by about $13 million.

Committee members also argue that the lodging community pays its fair share as it collects the lodging tax. If the lodging tax was not in place, they said that these businesses would be able to charge the same price and hold on to more profits.

Referendum 2B

This measure would renew a half-cent sales tax supporting Steamboat's Education Fund, which will otherwise expire at the end of 2019. The fund pays some teachers' wages, technology and educational programming in and outside of the classroom. Most money is spent within the Steamboat Springs School District, but some funds are also spent in other Routt County districts.

No vocal opposition has formed against the measure. Two parents of children in the Steamboat School District spoke in favor of the measure.

"This is not a new tax, and it's not a tax increase," said Jeanne Mackowski. "Since 1993, the half-cent sales tax has provided more than $61 million to local public education. Teachers, administrators and parents agree that this has made an enormous difference in the academic success of our students and our schools."

Eliminating the tax could result in reductions of teachers and staff members; wage and hiring freezes; and reductions in programs, course offerings and technology available to students and teachers in Routt County schools, she said.

Amendment 73

Amendment 73 would increase state funding per student in preschool through 12th grade by increasing state income taxes for corporations and the wealthy.

The measure would abandon Colorado's flat 4.63 percent income tax rate for a progressive tax rate of 5 to 8.25 percent for those making more than $150,000. It would also lower residential and commercial property tax rates levied by school districts, creating two rates of assessment.

"Colorado per-pupil funding for students is $2,800 below the national average, currently, said Jessica Reagon, a teacher at Steamboat Springs Middle School. "The current estimate for this year is that we'll be almost $800 lower than we have been. With Amendment 73 that would increase, and we would move up by $1,500 over that in per-pupil funding."

She said this could lead to smaller class sizes, more vocational programs and career counseling and additional project-based learning.

However, Routt County Assessor Gary Peterson said the dual assessments of the measure would create confusion and a "nightmare" for administering the assessments. He also believes the decrease in property assessments would negatively impact special districts, such as fire protection districts and sanitation districts, as the Gallagher Amendment pushes residential tax assessments lower and lower.

Proposition 109 and 110

Proposition 110 would increase the state's sales and use tax from 2.9 to 3.52 percent to raise revenues to $6 billion in bonds to fund state municipal and county transportation projects. It would also fund multimodal transportation projects, including mass transit, bike lanes and walking paths.

A percentage of funds would be specifically allocated for municipalities and county transit needs.

Proposition 109 would borrow up to $3.5 billion in the next year to be spent on 66 highway projects on the Colorado Department of Transportation's priority list. Bonds would pay for about 60 percent of the projects' estimated total cost of $5.6 billion.

Two of the 66 projects are in Northwest Colorado, though neither are in Routt County. The proposition proposes adding passing lanes and widening shoulders for a 14-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 40 near Kremmling and making U.S. 40 four lanes between Fraser and Winter Park. The bulk of projects are on the Interstate 70 corridor and the Front Range.

This would require the state to repay the bonds from existing revenue without raising taxes or fees. Critics of the measure say this is not possible without making significant cuts to other state services.

Council member Kathi Meyer called Proposition 109 "a partial fix with no funding source," but said Proposition 110 would also place a tax burden on visitors who also use and wear down Colorado roads.

"The primary difference is 110 is a dedicated funding source," said Meyer. "We are going to ask the voters of the state of Colorado to increase a sales tax, but the key is that 45 percent of 110's revenue would go to fund highways. Twenty percent would help cities directly, and 20 percent would help counties."

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.