Steamboat Council mulls trimming local transit service, adding timeshare tax to help revenue shortfalls
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that George Eck represents the Christie Owners Association, Inc. and that the Christie Club is no longer owned by Wyndham Vacation Rentals.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Parts of the local transit service are on the chopping block after the Steamboat Springs City Council this week discussed ways to save revenue in response to impacts of the ongoing pandemic.
Due to anticipated budget shortfalls this year and potentially in 2021, the city is considering a 22% reduction in its public transit service.
Steamboat Springs Transit expects to receive about $1 million in federal assistance for 2020 operations, funding provided under the CARES Act. That funding is not anticipated to continue in 2021, according to Jonathan Flint, transit manager.
Prior to the pandemic, the transit service witnessed some of the highest ridership numbers in the past decade. February set an all-time record in local ridership, Flint said, and regional ridership was on pace for the busiest winter ever.
While the numbers were good, they exposed some weaknesses in equipment redundancy, frequency and service levels, Flint explained.
“These need to be addressed or expectations need to be revised to meet the realistic objectives that Steamboat Springs Transit can deliver,” Flint said.
City staff recommended to council during its regular meeting Tuesday to temporarily reduce service levels for 2021 winter service, beginning December 2020.
Local resident Timothy Carter expressed his concern during the public comment period.
“Local transit is especially important to the working class and senior citizens,” he said. “I hope it’s not looked at as the first to cut.”
Specifically, the cuts would focus on reducing two major services. Nightly service would be stopped earlier in the evening, from the last bus departing at 2 a.m. to instead departing at 11 p.m. Proposed reductions would also suspend all service on Sundays in the spring and fall.
Other cuts under the proposed 22% reduction include:
- Eliminating the blue line, which provided service from KOA Campground on the west side of Steamboat, through downtown and to the Gondola Transit Center. Having no blue line would mean stops between Steamboat Square/Flour Mill and the Meadows Parking Lot, stops on the west end of Steamboat and downtown stops would be serviced every 20 minutes rather than every 10 minutes.
- Combining the orange and purple lines to provide service from the Gondola Transit Center through the north of Mount Werner Condo Loop, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, Central Park Plaza then travel through The Ponds, hotels along U.S. Highway 40 and Walton Creek portion of the Condo Loop.
- An express line will be created to provide 10-minute service between the Gondola Transit Center and downtown.
- No fixed route for the yellow line, which will be fully on call.
The reductions would free up about $900,000 for 2021.
Council member Lisel Petis signaled the most concern regarding the proposed cuts, saying they would have negative consequences.
“There are some people whose only mode of transportation is the bus system,” Petis said. “Not having it all day scares me. To have no service on a Sunday, we’re really hurting the people that need the transportation.”
Petis also cautioned that not having late night service could lead to an increase in drinking and driving.
Petis strongly suggested council be presented with the cost of maintaining service and that be weighed against the risks associated with the cuts. She, along with council members Heather Sloop and Sonja Macys, suggested a potential funding source to assist with transit costs could come from Steamboat Resort or council could add a lift tax proposal on the election ballot.
“(I’d) rather see a reduction versus completely eliminating them,” Petis said.
Council President Jason Lacy agreed to wait on making decisions on any service reductions until the costs can be reviewed.
Council considers addition of tax on timeshares
In an attempt to garner additional revenue streams, council members also discussed Tuesday the potential of adding a new tax that would focus on timeshares.
Kim Weber, city finance director, presented details about the tax, which she considered rare. The city could apply what is called a transient occupancy rate tax, which could be based on the city’s sales tax model.
While Weber acknowledged it’s difficult to prepare revenue estimates if such a tax were to be applied, she predicted adding the tax could contribute anywhere from $250,000 to $730,000 in collected revenue per year.
Fairness was a major point of contention when considering the tax, which was said to be supported by at least some in the lodging community, according to Weber. Other traditional lodging entities in Steamboat pay sales and accommodation taxes while timeshares do not.
Specifically considering owners of timeshares, Petis wondered if they’re paying their fair share.
“Where is that fairness factor? Are they actually helping contribute to keep up our city?” she asked.
George Eck, who represents The Steamboat Grand and the Christie Owners Association, Inc. in Steamboat, joined the meeting questioning the potential tax.
“There’s a bad misconception of what a timeshare is,” Eck said. “This is not a one-week club that you buy into in Cancun. This is deeded property in Steamboat Springs.”
Carmen Belefonte, a Pennsylvania resident and one-seventh owner of a residence at the Christie Club, said the tax isn’t fair as he would argue his ownership doesn’t fall under the definition of “transient.”
“We contribute tremendously to Steamboat,” Belefonte said.
He said he and his family visits the timeshare at least five times each year, and it’s not rented out in the meantime.
Before making any movement on adding the tax, council is hoping to hear from the community and property owners if they believe the tax is feasible and fair.
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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