Letter: Council is missing the short-term rental solution
I believe our current City Council may be missing the boat on a marvelous opportunity to solve the short-term rental mess. Reading the Steamboat Pilot & Today, it appears the council prefers to divvy up the baby and play king over what neighborhoods will bear the brunt. This pays homage to those who yell the loudest and longest.
And I do not for a minute suggest that those unhappy folks are wrong in wanting relief. But I am very disappointed that after five hours and who knows how many years of examining, debating and talking ad nauseum about the issue, that a glorified game of whack-a-mole is our solution. This will shift the load between neighborhoods and soon have other residents joining the cacaphony of resentment.
Our councils have dawdled too long. Action is needed, yes, but a more enlightened approach will be more beneficial.
The U.S. has a wonderful economic system called the market. Today this Steamboat rental market, after untold years of allowing unfettered access to the various property owners has taken needed inventory out of the long-term rental market and moved it to short term. It has produced very little tax income despite the fact that its short-term, seasonal nature puts heavy demands on our city’s infrastructure. Think parking, police, water, service industry demand for employees, etc.
This seasonal “surge” demand skews the city’s spending to provide expensive services year round for perhaps a half year worth of need. It needs to be effectively taxed/regulated to the residents’ benefit. This is all an economic calculation for the property owners. Let’s use and tweak the market to the residents’ benefit while still allowing property owners to make rational and profitable calculations.
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Some measures I propose we should take:
• Enforcement and compliance: Find out who the short-term properties are. Hire a compliance officer to track them down. Consultants if we must. An anonymous resident reporting system and a short-term renters behavior code with backbone.
• Tax the short-term rentals enough to feel it and enough to add plenty to our tax coffers. If there are 3,000 to 4,000 of these units, the tax take could put the possibility of a property tax way into the future. We can tax higher in areas we want to reduce the current level of short-term rentals and should ease some neighborhood concerns. We allow owners to act rationally and get some beneficial flow out of short term back into the long-term pool, which we desperately need.
• Let the market work and adjust as needed.
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On Tuesday, Peak Health Alliance, a nonprofit, locally-led insurance purchasing alliance, gave a presentation to the Routt County commissioners. We attended the meeting (remotely), and this is what we learned: