Steamboat City Council moves forward on new property tax, discusses lift tax
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — “If we want nice things, we either need more tourism or more taxes.”
That was the message Steamboat Springs City Council wanted to emphasize at its work session Tuesday night as two potential taxes were discussed — a property tax and a tax on lift tickets
Council members voted to move forward on a property tax months ago, as part of a solution to what they see as the city relying too heavily on sales tax, which can be difficult to predict and depends heavily on uncontrollable factors such as wildfires, low snow levels or a pandemic.
“We provide an amazing number of services to the community, but they all cost money, and we just can’t sustain all of these wonderful services we provide with our current financial scenario,” City Manager Gary Suiter said in an interview Wednesday.
Steamboat voters in 1979 opted to eliminate the city’s property tax and replaced it with a 4% sales tax. The proposed property tax would come as an addition to the 2-mill property tax city voters passed in 2019 to fund fire and emergency services, Steamboat’s first property tax in over 40 years.
Council members were asked to evaluate several scenarios, one of which would ultimately end up on the November ballot. Options included a 5-mill property tax with a sales tax reduction of 0.5%; a 5-mill property tax with the elimination of city sales tax on utilities; or a 5.5-mill property tax with the elimination of sales tax on groceries.
While the seven council members expressed various opinions on each scenario, most said they would support a 5-mill property tax but would not feel comfortable with anything higher than that.
‘‘We need to be realistic in what could pass on the ballot,” council member Heather Sloop said.
Several members also said they were not in favor of reducing or eliminating the city’s sales tax on utilities because of the council’s goal to be more environmentally conscious.
“If you’re consuming more utilities, you can afford to pay that tax,” said council member Sonja Macys. “I think it’s incredibly inconsistent of this council to consider dismissing a tax on utilities when we’re buying into climate action and trying to fight what people are doing when they’re overusing utilities.”
Council member Lisel Petis agreed, adding “if we were to look at any sort of offset, it would be a lowering of sales tax across the board.”
Additionally, all council members agreed they needed to deliver more information to the community on why a property tax would be necessary ahead of the November election.
“Any time the community is going to be asked to spend more money, they need a complete argument as to why those extra funds would be needed,” said Council President Jason Lacy.
Lacy also told the council they needed to “make clear” what services Steamboat residents would not be getting if voters decided against an additional property tax.
“We’re going to have to really provide a lot more detail on what programs and services we’re talking about here,” he said. “We also need to talk more about some of the additional things we can do if we have this money.”
Suiter told the council to keep the city’s tourism survey, which was sent to 2,000 full-time residents and 500 second-home owners, in mind for future discussions about whether or not residents want to continue promoting Steamboat as a visitors destination and reap the benefits of higher sales tax revenue. The survey results will be collected in March, he said.
“If we as a community don’t want to promote Steamboat as much, those of us that live here have to step up to the plate,” said council member Robin Crossan. “If we want to keep our quality of life at least neutral to where it is today, we need to step up.”
As for where the money from a potential property tax could be spent, Lacy emphasized the money is fungible, meaning it could support core services such as police and the fire department, recreation like Howelsen Hill or other services such as transportation and roads.
If the council chooses to use the money for core services, which include police and fire, Lacy said he’d like to add transportation as a core service.
All council members agreed finding a long-term funding source for the Steamboat Springs Transit’ system should be a priority. As one alternative, several council members spoke in favor of a lift tax on tickets sold at Steamboat Resort.
“We’re trying to build this partnership and work with Ski Corp. here,” said council member Michael Buccino.
Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. President and COO Rob Perlman said he was not opposed to a lift tax.
The idea is still in its preliminary stages, and Suiter said he would research the issue future for a deeper discussion in February.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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After several Steamboat Springs Transit drivers caught COVID-19 recently, the operation had to adjust its routes around New Year’s celebrations and The MusicFest at Steamboat, two of the city’s busiest weeks of the year.