Steamboat City Council, Ski Corp. reach agreement to avoid cutting transit service’s Blue line
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At their annual budget retreat Tuesday, Steamboat Springs City Council members announced the city had reached a tentative agreement with Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. to fund the Blue transit line, which was in danger of being eliminated due to COVID-19-related budget cuts.
In the proposed 2021 annual budget, the city and Ski Corp. would each give $242,000 for the line, which will begin service on Dec. 1 and end in the spring. The Blue line runs from the Steamboat Springs Transit Center on Lincoln Avenue to Steamboat Resort.
“The bus is the sole source of transportation for some of our locals,” said Jason Lacy, city council president. “It’s critical for a lot of people to be able to do their daily chores.”
When COVID-19 first hit Colorado, City Council gave conservative numbers for its budget, anticipating heavy losses from sales tax due to hits on the tourism industry. Originally, council discussed dissolving the Blue and Yellow lines and combining the Orange line with the Purple line.
However, Lacy said, tourism picked back up in the summer, and the city took in more funds than anticipated, so the Blue and Orange lines will be able to continue this winter. The Yellow line still runs but is on-call only.
“There’s definitely a benefit to having that service reinstated because it serves a lot of Ski Corp. housing,” said Jonathan Flint, city transit manager.
Funding for the public bus system comes from the city’s general fund, and because it is free and does not generate revenue, it competes with the fire department, police department and other city resources.
Because local property tax does not go toward the city’s general fund, programs like the bus are heavily dependent on tourism money, according to Gary Suiter, city manager.
“COVID-19 has played a big role in impacting tourism, and that’s a risk for the city,” Suiter said. “With the advent of COVID, everything got severely impacted. Lodges were shut down. The bus system continued to operate, but there was virtually no one riding it.”
City Council compared its numbers to other resort towns in Colorado and saw others predict a 20% decline in revenue, which is what council presented in its proposed budget Tuesday. Original cuts included the closure of public restrooms, laying off seasonal workers and the elimination of the continuous yellow line.
“Basically tourism disappeared for a couple months,” Suiter said.
While tourism slowed down when the pandemic first hit, Lacy said council feels “a little more optimistic” about revenue for the winter season and 2021.
Council will vote on its proposed annual budget after a first and second reading, to be completed within the month.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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