Some Steamboat City Council members raise concerns about potential property tax for fire services
February 14, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Some Steamboat Springs City Council members are throwing cold water on a potential ballot question that would ask city voters to join a fire district and endorse a new property tax to pay for firefighting and ambulance services.
If passed, the tax would serve as a less volatile funding source for the emergency services than city sales tax revenue. It would also free up money in the city's budget for other city services.
But some council members are questioning whether the city would have a strong enough sales pitch to change how the services are currently funded.
"There are so many hurdles, and I don't think you're going to achieve that public buy-in," Councilwoman Heather Sloop said Tuesday night.
Councilwoman Lisel Petis countered that she had seen mostly positive reactions to the idea so far in the community.
Sloop said while she ultimately wants a tax question to succeed, she felt the potential property tax proposal would be "defeated out of the gate."
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Councilwoman Kathi Meyer said she thought it would be premature to start taking steps toward putting a tax question to voters
"I'm looking for more data," she said.
Petis cautioned the council about over-analyzing the issue.
"What I don't want is to come back with more pros and cons, more pros and cons," she said. "At some point we need to start moving forward."
Another concern raised at Tuesday's work session included the complexity of the issue and getting voters to understand something that some elected officials have spent months researching and getting brought up to speed on themselves.
Some council members also wondered whether a property tax for fire services would be the most beneficial way to diversify the city's revenue stream that currently relies heavily on sales tax revenue.
City officials last month started meeting with the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District to lay the groundwork for the possible ballot initiative.
In a recent memo to his fellow city council members, Councilman Scott Ford reported there was an interest among all the parties at a late January fire district meeting to explore extending the existing fire protection district into the city of Steamboat.
The move would create a unified fire district with all district residents paying the same tax for emergency services.
Currently, residents in a donut-shaped district just beyond the city limits pay a property tax to help fund the equipment and firefighting personnel, which are owned by the city and based in Steamboat.
City residents help fund fire and EMS services through a sales tax, but they do not pay a property tax dedicated to those services like the residents of Silver Spur, Steamboat II and other county neighborhoods just beyond the city limits.
Ford recently created a "back of the napkin" calculation for how a new property tax would impact a homeowner in Steamboat.
He estimated a home valued at $750,000 in the city limits would see a monthly property tax increase of about $28 per month if the existing fire district's mill levy of 6.259 was used in the calculation.
Ford estimated a commercial property of the same value would see a property tax of $113 per month.
Based on the total assessed value within the city limits of about $695 million, Ford also estimated such a mill levy could generate about $4.3 million a year.
"Is that enough or is it too much? It all depends on what is included and/or excluded," he wrote in a Facebook comment. "The devil is going to be in the details."