Steamboat Springs City Council members raised concerns about ski pass perk, emails show
Steamboat Springs — Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a correction. The city purchases the medallions from the Steamboat Ski Area, not the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.
Steamboat Springs City Council members recently had an internal discussion via email about whether to change or end a city ski pass program after a season when two of the passes went missing, and one councilman caught some flak for his frequent use of the benefit.
Emails obtained by Steamboat Today through an open records request show one councilman was most concerned about how the program was set up to give the city’s elected officials preferential treatment over city workers with the taxpayer-funded ski passes.
He said the program created a rift between the council and the staff.
The benefit program allows council members to bump any city employees who have signed up for any of the six Steamboat Ski Area day passes, which are shared among the staff and the council. City staff also cannot sign up to use the pass as often as council members can.
This setup bothered Councilman Scott Ford, who advocated in an email to city officials and his fellow council members for an end to the program, which Ford said cost the city about $18,000 last ski season.
He wanted the city to instead seek a discounted pass rate from the ski area for city employees, council members and volunteers who served on city boards and commissions.
The council has not discussed the issue publicly, but their emails show some of them discussed their concerns about the program at length online.
“In my opinion, I think that (bumping) policy stinks and often creates a feeling of ill-will between staff and the council,” Ford wrote in a January email to city manager Gary Suiter and Councilwoman Kathi Meyer. “From my perspective City Council is not that special that it deserves this type of preferential treatment.”
Meyer said she was open to some of Ford’s proposed changes to the program, which included at a minimum getting rid of the “bump” policy.
But she said she wasn’t ready to eliminate the program entirely and suggested the council should have a broader discussion about benefits at a later date.
Council President Walter Magill also weighed in electronically, saying that reducing the number of medallions and not giving council members priority with the passes was a “good start.”
Councilman Tony Connell’s frequent use of the ski medallions last ski season concerned Magill, the emails show.
In an email to Connell, Magill said several city employees had approached him about how often Connell reserved the passes.
Magill claimed Connell was continuously reserving two of the passes “three out of four weekends per month and any off school days.”
“I realize these may be for visitors but I think it abuses the system and is unfair to the rest of council and the City employees,” Magill wrote in the March email. “It appears without counting 1/3 of passes have gone out to you for the majority of the weekends of the entire ski season.”
Connell said Monday he never bumped any city employees by using the pass. He said he told Magill he often cancelled using the pass after reserving it.
Connell added the ski pass is the only council benefit he uses, and he is saving the city an estimated $12,000 to $15,000 a year by not taking the health insurance package that is offered to city officials.
The discussions about the ski medallion program, which included at least three council members, continued via email into May as Ford continued to express concern about the passes.
“I really struggle with this program on so many levels,” Ford wrote to Magill and Suiter. “At a minimum, I perceive it as being ‘bad mannered’ on the part of the City Council.”
Suiter said the six ski medallions have been ordered for the 2016-17 ski season, and he plans to review the policy for the passes and possibly make some changes.
He said the policy will likely change to make the passes a first-come, first-serve benefit.
The two passes that went missing were eventually found last ski season.
The council could discuss the pass program during budget season.
Ford said Monday he was surprised when he learned about the program shortly after becoming a council member.
“It was one of those things that made me think ‘are you kidding?’” Ford said. “I know how we got here. I’m not quite sure how to extract us.”
At some point in the past, previous council members used to receive complimentary ski passes from the ski area, but Ford said he learned that policy was replaced at some point with the current medallion program when city officials realized the former setup posed a potential conflict of interest because council members often have to vote on development proposals from the ski area.
Mountain resort communities in Colorado have varying benefits programs for their elected officials.
The city of Aspen does not purchase any ski passes for its employees or council members, but council members and employees receive a discount on passes because of the city’s membership in the local chamber of commerce.
In Vail, the town will pay up to $700 toward the purchase of any ski pass purchased by a town council member if the pass includes Vail Mountain.
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As Steamboat Springs and Routt County ease out of the pandemic, I’m thrilled to see a full slate of community events on the calendar in the coming months.