Steamboat brought in more money than expected in 2020, but some still believe sales tax alone isn’t enough
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs ended 2020 in better financial shape than city leaders originally anticipated — finishing the year with about $27 million in sales tax revenue, which was considerably more than the $21 million staff anticipated when COVID-19 first hit Routt County last March.
Still, the city used about $2 million of its reserves, or “rainy day fund,” to operate this past year, but City Finance Director Kim Weber said she is optimistic the city will be able to replenish that money by the end of 2021, as the COVID-19 vaccine is widely distributed and restrictions are lifted.
As council and staff move forward on discussions about another form of tax to offset the city’s heavy reliance on sales tax, city staff members are trying to convey a very specific message to city voters: Steamboat’s quality of life costs money.
“The demands for services are growing, and the expectations for quality service in resort communities, especially this one, are very high,” said City Manager Gary Suiter. “We have people who come here from the Front Range who say our roads are plowed really well and that they don’t get that in the big cities.”
While staff and council members said sales tax is unreliable and hard to predict, especially during a pandemic, the city only saw a 1.4% decline in its 2020 sales tax. Because of this, many community members have told Steamboat Springs City Council they believe another form of tax is unnecessary, and sales tax is enough to continue providing city services.
“The sales tax works,” Steamboat resident William Jameson told council during public comment at a Feb. 9 council meeting. “You don’t need to use the excuse of having a diversified revenue source to justify a property tax when sales tax isn’t broken.”
Council has been discussing a 5-mill property tax for several months now, but members were less enthusiastic about pursuing that option at their last meeting and agreed to discuss other forms of revenue in the future, such as a potential sin tax on marijuana, tobacco and alcohol or a lift tax on Steamboat Resort single-day tickets.
Still, Suiter and Weber said the city cannot continue to sustain all its services — including a free bus system, a city-funded ski area and two fire stations.
“People will say cut this service or eliminate this program, and it’s easy to say that, but when the rubber meets the road and you’re submitting a budget and a council is deliberating, it’s hard for them to say let’s cut Howelsen Hill,” Suiter said. “The community isn’t going to accept that — that’s a memorable asset in the community.”
Steamboat’s population continues to increase each year, and Suiter said a growing city is going to require more funding to sustain itself, as more people use its services.
“The demands for services are growing, and the expectations for quality service are very high,” Suiter said. “It’s easy to say a certain program or service isn’t essential, but it’s a lot harder when you see that service or program go away.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Steamboat Springs has seen slightly above average precipitation so far in July, as the Yampa Valley has been on the edge of well-defined monsoonal moisture bringing much needed rain to the Western Slope.