Steamboat eyes removing tourism references from accommodations tax ballot question

Council plans to continue to refine the question before placing it on the November ballot

Steamboat Springs City Council wants to remove references to tourism when asking voters to repurpose the city’s 1% accommodations tax in November. The measure was originally passed in 1986, and the money has largely been used to support construction of new trails over the last 10 years.
Routt County Riders/Courtesy photo

When voters are asked to update Steamboat’s accommodations tax in November, they likely won’t see any language referencing tourism or the ski town being a “premier destination resort.”

Both were part of the initial 1986 ballot question when voters first approved Steamboat’s 1% accommodations tax assessed on hotel and short-term-rental stays, and the 2A for Trails measure in 2013 included marketing for “tourist-related” improvements.

Now, some City Council members fear that connecting the question to tourism could lead residents to vote against the measure.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to take care of our visitors, but I think considering the community’s expressed attitude right now, that that will lead people to voting against this,” council member Joella West said during a work session on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

The measure passed in 2013 was a 10-year plan largely focused on trails that will soon end. Council members indicated they don’t want to ask voters to change how the rest of that money would be spent but they needed to update the ballot question before bringing it to voters again.

City Council began “wordsmithing” the question Tuesday, but didn’t make any final decisions. The question will be discussed over the next several months, and council members want public input, including from the lodging industry. Council City would need to pass an ordinance with two readings before the end of August for the question to appear on the 2023 ballot.

The language West proposed was similar to what was suggested by City Budget Director Kim Weber with the tourism references removed. West’s proposed language would keep other references in the question about the purpose of the tax, including the phrase “enhance the community identity, environmental desirability and economic health of Steamboat Springs.”

Key in the new question language is the addition of the ability for the city to spend some of this money on the maintenance of amenities, something that has been left out in the past and forced the city to pay for maintenance with revenue from the general fund.

“What (the 1986 language) didn’t do, which has caused us a headache for 40 years, is the maintenance,” council member Michael Buccino said.

The tax collects about $1.9 million each year. Currently, $600,000 of that goes to trails, $30,000 goes to Haymaker Golf Course and $30,000 goes to marketing amenities that the tax created. Additional funds collected can be spent under the terms of the original ballot question.

Council members indicated on Tuesday that they don’t want to continue the marketing efforts, which recently have supported the city’s trail ambassadors program. Council members didn’t want any of the money to go toward Haymaker either because the golf course is now self-sustaining.

As drafted Tuesday, the question was fairly broad and open to the interpretation of future City Councils, City Manager Gary Suiter said.

“If you feel like the enhancement of the community identity is enhanced by a new welcoming sign, you could build a new welcome sign,” Suiter explained. “There is a whole range of things you can build based upon the language. It’s pretty broad.”

City Attorney Dan Foote said the broad language would allow the city to use the money for any of the projects the city has built with this funding in the past, as well as other things built before the 1986 measure. He said he felt a river enhancement or restoration project would apply, but a project like building a new city hall would not.

“Non-tangible things, research and study, that to me is not an improvement or an amenity,” Foote said. “But if you are doing improvements to the river, I think that would fit.”

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