Taxes to be placed on Nov. ballot

Funding plans move ahead

Avi Salzman

— Two city taxes will grace the ballot this November, with voters being asked to weigh issues of child care and transportation.

Advocates for a two-pronged tax dedicated to increasing the quality of early childhood education can start their campaign to get it passed because the Steamboat Springs City Council decided to go ahead and place it on the ballot Tuesday night. The city’s tax would add a half-cent to the 8.4-percent sales tax currently collected in the city. The county, as well, decided to place a 1 mill property tax increase on the ballot Tuesday.

The two taxes will not be linked, meaning that passage of one is in no way dependent on the passage of the other. The City Council decided to place the sales tax on the ballot as long as the money from the tax was spent only on people using child-care providers within the city limits. Utilities and food items would be excluded from the tax.

The intent of the tax is primarily to subsidize scholarships for families who cannot pay for child care, with child-care providers presumably raising their rates. Child-care providers say they cannot make enough money to pay their employees a living wage, which brings down the quality of child care they can offer their customers.

“We’re thrilled that we can actually start to campaign,” said Tami Havener, a First Impressions board member.

The council was somewhat reluctant in its decision to allow the voters to see the tax, with Councilman Jim Engelken saying he did not want to add more sales tax to the city’s sales-tax-heavy revenue stream.

“I feel that going for an additional sales tax for any purpose is a mistake,” Engelken said.

The council may actually refer the tax to the voters as a resolution, not an ordinance, which council members said would show voters the city doesn’t support it as it is proposed.

Later in the night, the council placed another tax item on the ballot to pay for transportation items and bolster the local business community.

The transportation tax would primarily pay for the airline guarantee program previously funded by the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and the business community. The Chamber Resort Association-supported tax would target tourists by placing the brunt of the tax on tourist-related activities. That was a big plus with the City Council.

Voters will see a tax that gives 20 percent of its proceeds to the city’s free bus system. The tax will not have a sunset provision, because Chamber Executive Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall said voters polled in a phone survey were not averse to a tax without a sunset provision denoting when the tax would end. Evans-Hall said 54 percent of those polled said the sunset provision made no difference as to their opinion of the tax and 21 percent said without the provision they would actually be more likely to support it. Even without a sunset provision, however, City Council can always repeal the tax if circumstances change.

The tax would be collected on items and services used primarily by tourists a 3-percent lift ticket tax, a 2-percent tax on tourism activities, lodging and equipment rentals and a 1-percent restaurant tax to raise a total of about $2.9 million. Neither retail nor grocery items would be taxed in the proposal, a big selling point for the council.

After the meeting, a jubilant Evans-Hall said the committee to gain support for the tax would be unveiling its campaign beginning today.

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