Steamboat City Council members, staff discuss fiscal sustainability options in town hall panel
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs voters could decide a ballot question this November asking them to vote for one or more taxes.
Fiscal sustainability and tax options the Steamboat Springs City Council is currently considering were the topics of discussion during Steamboat Pilot & Today’s monthly town hall series, Steamboat Conversations, on Wednesday. Steamboat Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman moderated the panel discussion, which included Jason Lacy, Steamboat Springs City Council president; Kathi Meyer, council member; Gary Suiter, city manager; and Kim Weber, the city’s finance director.
Panelists emphasized that nothing is set in stone, but council would like to decide on a direction by May or June, so it can start working on the ballot language ahead of a September deadline while also engaging in a public education effort.
As for the options still on the table for this year, the group mentioned a 2-mill property tax, a tax on timeshares in Steamboat and a 1% lodging tax for destination marketing.
The panelists agreed Steamboat needs another source of revenue because the city relies almost entirely on sales tax, which is difficult to predict and is dependent on external factors that affect tourism, such as snow and pandemics.
“Other municipalities typically have other taxes or other taxing mechanisms that they use to pay for some of these services,” Weber said. “There’s a lack of diversity in our revenue sources.”
Lacy said the city has worked to cut expenses and save money where it can, but without more revenue, city residents could soon notice a decline in the quality of city services.
“We’ve done the best we can to help shield the public,” Lacy said. “But we’re a little concerned that we’re at the point now where some of these cuts are going to be felt by the public.”
Suiter said when council and staff members have discussed cutting certain city programs or services, it’s impossible to make those decisions without angering segments of the community who expect such programs and services.
“That’s just so much easier said than done,“ Suiter said.
As for what programs and services are most important to fund quickly, the panelists discussed employee salaries, public safety, transportation and affordable housing.
“As a service organization, the highest costs in our budget are our personnel costs,” Suiter said. “If we don’t keep our wages competitive, we basically just become a training ground and lose our employees to other communities that pay better.”
For Meyer, affordable housing is “what keeps me up at night.”
As more people move to Steamboat and housing prices keep rising, Meyer said the city will struggle to maintain its employees if they cannot find housing in town.
“We need to create more supply because the demand is unbelievable,” Meyer said. “We need to continue to focus on housing and just try to stabilize price increases.”
Suiter said transportation and public safety were among the city’s greatest needs, particularly as hiring and retaining police officers becomes more difficult nationwide.
“There’s just increased demand for transportation, especially as our housing continues to push west,” Suiter said. “There’s always additional needs for public safety. They always top the list in terms of what people expect in our communities.”
Lacy said child care and facility maintenance were also among the city’s most urgent issues.
“Because we’ve been trying to blunt this impact, we haven’t been able to maintain the facilities we already have,” Lacy said.
As for child care, Lacy said the city’s lack of options is a problem for retaining young families in the community.
“Child care is a serious community issue here,” Lacy said. “It’s not one the city can solve on its own, but it’s one that we should contribute to.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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Steamboat Springs has been seeing some much needed rain to start the month of May, which is historically the wettest month of the year for the Yampa Valley.