Steamboat officials hope to parlay Olympic success into state funds for Howelsen
Steamboat Springs — Call it medal fever, medal mojo or maybe just medal money.
Whatever the term, there’s no doubt that city officials are seeing financial opportunities in the recent, extraordinary success of Steamboat’s Winter Olympians, particularly members of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team. On Tuesday night, the Steamboat Springs City Council approved a recommendation by City Manager Jon Roberts to use $250,000 of surplus 2009 revenues to apply for state grants and other funding sources for improvements to Howelsen Hill. Roberts speculated that the city could see a “10-to-1” return on those dollars, given the sudden “great deal of interest (statewide) in what goes on at Howelsen Hill.” He noted that earlier city investments in ski jumps, for example, “assisted in the kind of results that occurred in Vancouver” and ultimately brought national attention to Steamboat Springs, a community that thrives on tourist dollars.
Roberts mentioned that he plans to invite Susan Kirkpatrick, executive director of the state Department of Local Affairs, to an upcoming welcome-home celebration for Steamboat’s Winter Olympians. A parade down Lincoln Avenue for Olympians including locals Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane, he said, could attract widespread media coverage.
The funding approval was part of a 4-2 vote by City Council to allocate $750,000 in excess general fund revenues from 2009. The remainder of those revenues will provide $250,000 in merit pay for city employees and $250,000 for a variety of capital projects.
Council President Cari Hermacinski and Councilman Kenny Reisman voted against the allocations, saying the city has more dire spending needs in a time of declining sales tax revenues, struggling businesses downtown and at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, and an aging sewer system.
Hermacinski acknowledged “it’s probably disappointing to city employees to hear this,” but she said she couldn’t support the merit pay when so many residents are out of work entirely.
Reisman said funding for Howelsen could come through other means and said “we have to use that money to help businesses survive right now.”
Councilman Walter Magill was absent Tuesday night.
Councilman Jim Engelken supported the allocations.
“I think our staff has waited long enough,” he said, citing the city’s furlough program that cut employee pay by 10 percent and the freezing of merit and cost of living increases. Engelken said the city’s reserve funds could be used in the event of continued sales tax declines. The city has budgeted for a 10 percent decrease in sales tax revenue this year, on top of the 18 percent decrease planned for in 2009.
City Finance Director Debra Hinsvark projected that once 2009 funds are finalized, the city should have about $14 million in general fund reserves. The annual general fund operating cost, she said, is about $23 million. Roberts said the city has about 200 permanent, full-time employees.
At the start of Tuesday’s council meeting, former U.S. Nordic combined ski coach Tom Steitz thanked City Council for its longtime support and passed around Lodwick’s newly acquired silver medal, which he said Lodwick “had lying on his kitchen table.”
Also Tuesday, City Council heard passionate public comment about proposed parking regulations that would change streetside parking on Lincoln Avenue through downtown from two-hour zones to three-hour zones, while making several downtown lots eight-hour, or all-day, zones and increasing fines for violations citywide.
“What’s being proposed goes against the wisdom of the past 15 years of parking (regulations) in Steamboat Springs,” said Ty Lockhart, owner of F.M. Light & Sons. “Why allow employees to take all the best (parking) places downtown?”
Lockhart said the proposed changes would fill lots and spaces in front of businesses with vehicles owned by employees, not paying customers. Hermacinski said she received a letter Tuesday from Steve Hitchcock of Zirkel Trading, bearing the signatures of 14 downtown business owners who opposed the changes.
Tracy Barnett, of Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, said the proposal was in response to surveys in which visitors said they didn’t have enough time to shop downtown without moving their cars. City Public Works Director Philo Shelton said the changes could increase turnover of parking spaces because of the increased fines.
No one present Tuesday night opposed the steeper fines.
City Council asked Barnett and Shelton to gather more local input before the issue is next addressed April 6, with the potential first reading of a revised parking ordinance.
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Some residents at Sleepy Bear Mobile Home Park will likely be without power and water for at least several weeks after two fires broke out at the park Wednesday afternoon.