Our view: Will people pay to play? | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Will people pay to play?

As a working group studies alternative funding sources to support the city of Steamboat Springs' extensive parks and recreational system, we think it's a good time to join the conversation.

Based on a March 27 Steamboat Pilot & Today article by reporter Scott Franz, it appears the working group is leaning toward establishing a parks and recreation district and asking voters to approve a property tax to support it.

This funding approach would provide a dedicated stream of money to support parks and recreation and would establish a separate board whose sole purpose would be to oversee the city's parks and recreation assets. And while we have some doubts about the need to create another government entity, we do think there could be value in that type of defined focus.

As the funding discussion moves forward, we encourage city leaders, including members of the working group, the Parks and Recreation Commission and City Council members, to do their homework and come up with a well-researched business plan that includes an inventory of current parks and recreation amenities and an analysis of what the city will be required to spend to operate and maintain those amenities over time.

In our opinion, this due diligence needs to happen ahead of plans to add anything new to the city's already stretched-thin parks and recreation department. There seems to be several different special interest groups hitching their wagons to the possibility of more funding for parks, and while these new additions to the park system sound enticing, we think it's important for the city to avoid getting distracted by the shiny and new and instead evaluate the assets it already has and find a way to make sure those amenities are maintained properly and utilized to their maximum capacity before adding more.

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The city should also learn from the past. In November 2007, a tax to support construction of a new $34 million recreation center went down in flames, with 80 percent of city voters rejecting the plan. The ballot measure would have instituted the city's first property tax to fund the facility.

With that experience in mind, we firmly believe the city should steer clear of plans to pursue construction of a recreation center. Instead, the plan to generate new parks and recreation funding must center around evaluating, maintaining, and possibly expanding or improving, the city's current park assets with an eye toward revenue generation through increased usage.

We encourage city leaders to remain realistic as they brainstorm funding alternatives. If City Council members decide to pursue a property tax through the establishment of a parks and recreation district, it's imperative they come up with a plan that is tax-neutral for local residents. It's far fetched to believe that city residents would support a new tax without the city providing some tax relief in return. We think one avenue for that relief could come in the form of a decrease in the tax on food and groceries in exchange for a property tax.

We support the city's decision to begin analyzing different funding alternatives for parks, but we think these discussions must be rooted in an understanding that the city cannot say "yes" to everyone when it comes to recreation. We already live in the middle of a recreational paradise surrounded by acres and acres of National Forest land and Wilderness Areas, and at some point, the city needs to assess how much more recreation it needs to add and support in the future.

It's also imperative that the city lay out a detailed plan for how the extra funds for parks and recreation would be spent and then communicate that plan to the public before it places any issue on the ballot. As Routt County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski was quoted as saying in the March 27 "Pay to play" article, "voters don't like approving a blank check."

At issue:

A working group, appointed by City Council is currently studying parks and recreation funding.

Our view:

City leaders must evaluate current parks and recreation assets and come up with a tax-neutral plan that details how funds generated by a new tax would be spent.