Steamboat council wants a piece of air tax pie
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – If Steamboat Springs City Council agrees this summer to put a new air service sales tax before the voters in November, there may be something in it for the city’s own mass transit system as well.
Mark Walker, co-chairman of the campaign committee, Steamboat Citizens to Ensure Air Service, appeared before council Tuesday night on behalf of the Local Marketing District board to propose placing a question on the November ballot seeking voter approval for restoring a previous general sales tax to maintain and grow commercial air service in and out of the Yampa Valley.
Through Citizens to Ensure Air Service, the Local Marketing District Board is seeking a .2-percent tax that would remain in place for 10 years as it continues the work of contracting with more airlines from more destinations. A .2-percent sales tax converts to 20 cents of tax on a purchase of $100.
The board, formed by City Council as an advisory group, works with Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. executives, who negotiate airline contracts, to shape the airline program.
If approved by the voters, the new tax would generate an estimated $1.2 to $1.3 million annually.
But City Council President Jason Lacy and other council members have different ideas about how to structure the proposed tax.
“Obviously, bringing all of those people here has an impact on our transit service,” he said. “We’re having trouble affording,” running the buses. “Why wouldn’t it make sense to have a .25 percent tax and send the extra money to Steamboat Springs Transit?”
“We had enormous discussion (over that issue), and it really told us, you gotta keep it simple. You can’t get too complicated,” Walker said.
This wasn’t the first time Walker has made this case. He was on a similar committee in 2011 that put forward a .25 percent general sales tax to help grow the airline program, which voters passed by a 61-percent margin. And he was on the 2016 committee that played a role in the decision not to seek renewal of the five-year tax.
Within the five years the tax was in place, the number of cities that had nonstop flights to Yampa Valley Regional Airport doubled from seven to 14, Walker reminded the council members.
Council member Heather Sloop told Walker this week that it wasn’t clear to her how adding .05 percent to the tax would complicate matters.
“I’m struggling with your thinking that adding .05 percent is too complex,” Sloop said. “From my perspective, it could be real simple — .05 percent for transit, done. I’d urge you guys to look at that, Through our fiscal struggles, we’re trying to find resources to balance our budget. This could be an easy win for our community, and I think it could be simple.”
And council member Sonja Macys agreed with Sloop.
“I really appreciate the (idea) of something for the transit system,” Macys said. “I don’t want us to think we have to accept this (ballot questions) as offered.”
“I like the concept of transit,” Councilman Scott Ford said, becoming the fourth of seven council members generally supportive of the idea.
Lacy calculated the additional .05 percent would raise about $325,000 annually for Steamboat Springs Transit and reminded his fellow council members that there is a possibility the city will lose some federal funding for the transit systems, which, he said, helps to move visitors around the community.
Ski Corp. has committed to increasing its annual up-front cash contribution to the flight program from $1.1 million to $1.6 million for the 10-year lifetime of the new tax.
“We’re understanding of your needing to solve some of your transportation budget,” Ski Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Perlman said.
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In an effort to make Steamboat Springs Transit buses safer and more accessible, solar-powered lighting in bus shelters and a GPS-triggered automatic voice system that will announce stops in English and Spanish are being implemented.