Our View: Pump the brakes
Steamboat Springs City Council is poised to consider, on first reading, a ballot proposal that would reallocate revenue from the 2A accommodations tax to the Steamboat Springs Chamber to fund destination marketing and management. Details of the planned initiative are still being hammered out, but council appears ready to move forward with placing some form of this proposal on the November ballot, along with a 2-mill property tax to support parks and recreation.
We won’t debate the details of each tax initiative at this time; instead, we want to focus on the reallocation of 2A funding and offer our view on the process that led to the current proposal and the timing of the ballot initiative — two years before the fund allocation is set to expire and right as our community is climbing out of a pandemic year.
Steamboat is currently dealing with several serious issues, including a labor shortage and soaring home prices, that present multiple challenges, so asking voters to support a plan aimed at bringing more tourists to town at this time seems particularly problematic. Given current circumstances, we don’t think it has a chance of passing at the polls in November, and we expect it will share the same fate as the 2A airline program sales tax that voters rejected in 2018.
Placing a second tax issue on the ballot also puts the property tax proposal at a greater risk of not passing. The property tax, even at 2 mills, will be a hard sell on its own, but putting two tax issues before voters will doom any effort council makes to convince voters the property tax to support parks and recreation is an idea worth supporting.
It’s surprising the 2A initiative has sparked little public debate until this past week, even though supporters describe the process as “a long time coming.” This lack of engagement could be attributed to virtual meetings, or it could point to a process that didn’t put an emphasis on engaging the public.
The proposal council discussed last week was the product of an advisory committee that functions as a Chamber subcommittee and includes representatives from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., the lodging community and a few other business owners with strong ties to tourism. It was not an advisory group appointed by council to include a wide range of voices, and as a result, it appears the proposal was created in a vacuum by a group of like-minded individuals who might not have considered how it would play out with the general public.
At issue: City Council is considering a ballot initiative that would repurpose a large portion of revenue from 2A accommodations tax to be used by the Chamber for destination management and marketing.
Our View: Council should consider tabling the proposal so more time can be given to educate the public about the plan and find ways to engage more community members in the process.
• Logan Molen, publisher
• Lisa Schlichtman, editor
• Marion Kahn, community representative
• Laraine Martin, community representative
Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.
We acknowledge the hard work and commitment of community leaders who have been working to come up with a plan to provide a sustainable funding source for the Chamber, but we think the proposal would have benefited from a more open and transparent process, involving a wider range of community members to capture a more diverse group of voices.
If council moves forward with placing this on the ballot as proposed, we don’t think there is time enough to launch a campaign to get the initiative passed. Four months is not sufficient time to educate the public on the difference between destination marketing and management, and to convince them this is not just about bringing more tourists to town at any cost. There also needs to be more specific information on how the money will be spent and how taxpayers can track that spending on an ongoing basis.
A successful campaign would need to move beyond just the movers and shakers in town and reach the people who make our community run — service industry workers, teachers, police officers, retirees — and we don’t think that can be achieved in four months during a busy summer season that will only increase the community’s tourist fatigue.
It’s important Steamboat plan for its growth, and we realize destination management is part of that, but we think funding that effort through reallocation of the lodging tax at this time is putting the cart before the horse. We think there are too many other important questions to answer before we ask voters to consider this proposal, especially since so many people are still reeling from the impacts of a year of battling COVID-19.
We encourage council to discuss whether it thinks voters will support two tax measures at this time — let alone one — and consider tabling the 2A reallocation for another year since that decision does not have to be made until 2022.
We’d also like to see more input from community members on how they would like to see this tax money repurposed, and now is the time to offer that perspective. Council is slated to discuss this again Tuesday, June 15, so we hope to see a lot of public comment on both proposed ballot measures at that meeting.
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“It’s like having gasoline out there,” said Brian Steinhardt, forest fire zone manager for Prescott and Coconino national forests in Arizona, in a recent AP story about the increasingly fire-prone West.