Steamboat Springs to explore instituting business licensing program |

Steamboat Springs to explore instituting business licensing program

The idea is supported by the Steamboat Springs Chamber, and would have been helpful to have during the pandemic

Steamboat Springs is looking to explore the idea of starting a business licensing program to understand what businesses are in the community, a move the Steamboat Springs Chamber supports.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs will explore creating a business-licensing program — a move the Steamboat Springs Chamber supports — though it will likely be several years before anything can be implemented.

At a work session on Tuesday, March 14, Steamboat Finance Director Kim Weber gave City Council a presentation about what such a program could look like and how the additional business data, most importantly the emergency contact numbers, could benefit the city.

Chamber CEO Sarah Leonard said talk of such a program arose at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when the chamber was trying to communicate with businesses but lacked information for everyone.

“We have a pretty good database of businesses around town through our membership, but there isn’t a comprehensive database,” Leonard said. “All of those health emergencies, there wasn’t a great way to make sure the entire business community was getting the information they needed and hearing about all of those changing regulations.”

Business-licensing programs like the one up for discussion are actually pretty common, and City Manager Gary Suiter said all of the other municipalities he has worked in had one in place.

The city plans to study exactly what data should be included as part of the licensing, but a significant goal would be to get a good sense of what businesses are in the community and where there is room for growth.

“If we can get a good sense of what businesses we have in the community, it informs work on where we should be targeting and expanding,” Leonard said.

Weber said about 3,600 businesses currently have a sales tax license, which they need to collect and remit sales taxes to the city, but that is not all-encompassing. For example, a company that works to clean short-term rentals is performing a service, so it is not required to have a sales tax license.

The new short-term rental-licensing program the city is currently rolling out would be another form of a business license, but Planning Director Rebecca Bessey said that likely isn’t pulling the same data that a business license would.

A 2017 study the city helped fund found there may be as many as 9,100 businesses in Routt County with 76% of those in Steamboat Springs. Still, Weber said that review had a lot of trouble getting data and ended up using six different sources, reducing confidence in the accuracy of the results.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows there are between 6,000 and 6,500 “employer establishments and non-employer establishments” in Routt County, though that doesn’t mean all of those do business in the county.

Leonard said the chamber has about 550 members and has a larger community database of 2,200 entries, though that isn’t necessarily all businesses and may include employees of businesses in some cases.

“It’s a big number,” Weber said. “If we have 3,600 sales tax licenses, 6,000 businesses probably isn’t an unreasonable number.”

Council President Robin Crossan said she sees value in finding out about these businesses that don’t pay sales taxes because the city is otherwise “missing the boat” when trying to understand the whole economic picture.

“I think it informs us as a council in terms of what’s happening in our community, right, in terms of is there a shift,” said Council member Gail Garey said. “If there is a shift in the sense of are there more services, are there more (location-neutral) employees.”

Suiter said he believed the program should be created to pay for itself but not make money for the city. He said he would hire an outside source to find out what other communities are doing and how things may be different when considering the growth of the internet economy.

Referencing her ongoing work to set up short-term rental licensing, Bessey cautioned council against thinking instituting such a program would be an easy lift for staff. If the city were to pursue such a program, it could likely lead to a new city division.

“Our best guess is that we’re going to have 3,000 (short-term rental licenses),” Bessey said. “It is a really heavy lift, and if we’re talking about 6,000-plus of these, we’re not talking about one employee. We’re talking about a whole new division housed within whatever department is identified as best.”

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