Steamboat City Council moves to place airline tax on fall ballot
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs City Council agreed to move forward in placing a 0.2-percent sales tax on the ballot in November that would increase funding for direct flights into Yampa Valley Regional Airport during the ski season.
Council will decide if it will give final approval to place the measure on the fall ballot after a public hearing, following a second reading of the ordinance at City Council’s July 3 meeting.
If approved by voters, the new tax would generate an estimated $1.2 to $1.3 million annually, which would be used to entice airlines to keep direct flights to Yampa Valley Regional Airport, primarily during ski season. A 0.2-percent sales tax converts to 20 cents of tax on a purchase of $100, and it would remain in place for 10 years.
The proposal was brought forward by the Steamboat Citizens to Ensure Air Service, a campaign committee in favor of the measure.
Voters approved a similar tax in 2011 with a margin of 61 to 39 percent. That tax had a five-year sunset, which expired in 2016. With a reserve in excess of $7 million, the Local Marketing District Board decided not to ask voters to renew the tax.
The Citizens to Ensure Air Service is now seeking a ballot measure to reinstate that tax because the reserve has dwindled.
“The voters here are really smart,” Council President Jason Lacy said. “They’ll be able to hear all the pros and cons on this and decide if it’s something they really want to support again.”
During earlier discussions about the tax, City Council asked the Citizens to Ensure Air Service to consider asking voters for a 0.25-percent sales tax. The additional 0.05-percent tax would raise funds for Steamboat’s public transit, including the free-to-rider bus system.
This idea was abandoned, as council determined the revenue generated by a 0.05-percent tax would not be enough to meet the city’s needs for transportation funding, Lacy said. He added that council also felt it was not appropriate to place both concepts into a single ballot measure.
“The no bundle-with-transit, to me, is a loser still, but we’ve decided we’re not going to get enough money out of that anyway, so that’s not going anywhere,” said council member Sonja Macys during the meeting.
She voted in favor of placing the measure on the ballot because she said she wanted to let voters decide.
The vote passed 5 to 1, with council member Scott Ford as the only dissenting vote. Council member Lisel Petis left the meeting before discussion on the topic began.
“I don’t question the need for the air service. I don’t question necessarily the need for the support,” Ford said. “What I struggle with is the nature — that it is a sales tax, and it is a regressive one.”
In a memo, Ford said he had hoped council would reject the ordinance and request the Steamboat Citizens to Ensure Air Service bring forward a lodging tax, which would place more of the tax burden on visitors instead of locals.
Before opening the meeting to public comment, Lacy asked how many members of the audience were there to testify in favor of placing the measure on the ballot. About 10 people raised their hands. Only two people raised their hands when asked who was opposed to placing the issue on the ballot.
Before the vote, Lacy asked for last thoughts from the council. Several council members emphasized they wanted to put the measure before voters on the November ballot.
“I know the council always felt assured, even in talking with these folks, that this will pass,” Ford said moments before the vote. “This is the beginning of the campaign, right now.”
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