Supporter says a yes vote is logical next step to address local housing crisis after last year’s STR tax.
While there was agreement that housing is an issue in Steamboat Springs during a forum debating Steamboat Ballot Measure 2I on Wednesday, there was a difference in what the government's role should be among the two speakers.
Ballot Measure 2I is the Brown Ranch funding question. It would allocate 75% of annual short-term rental tax revenues to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority to use at Brown Ranch for the life of the tax if certain performance metrics are met.
Those metrics are 420 units in six years and 1,100 units in 12 years. If the first metric is missed, Council could reduce funding in proportion to how many units were provided. (If 210 units are delivered in six years, then funding could be cut in half to 37.5% of STR tax revenues.) If the second metric is missed, council would have the option to cut off funding entirely.
The 2I question is a funding question, and not about the annexation of Brown Ranch into the city limits of Steamboat Springs. Still, the question is being viewed by some as a referendum on the Brown Ranch, even though there will be an actual referendum on the Brown Ranch next year. On Tuesday, Steamboat Springs City Council indicated they would send the question of Brown Ranch Annexation to voters in a special election that is currently thought to happen
Hosted by Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, Steamboat Chamber, Routt County Democrats and Routt County Republicans, the election forum explored a number of ballot issues and featured a supporter and opponent of measure 2I.
Ken Mauldin, who was speaking in opposition of the ballot measure, said there was no question housing was an issue in Steamboat, but that it shouldn’t be taxpayers' problem to address. The only housing the government should be building should be for “essential public employees” like teachers, police officers, and others, Mauldin said.
“I disagree that taxpayers are responsible for subsidizing the labor expenses of private, for-profit companies,” Mauldin said. “If businesses paid more of a working wage, they wouldn’t need taxpayers to subsidize their businesses with free money. … I think the taxpayers should help essential public employees and business owners should manage their own affairs with their own capital.”
Reese Freeman, who was speaking in support of the funding question argued that the measure was a commitment to housing and the logical next step after last year’s STR tax. A yes vote would allow people who are currently living in Steamboat to stay in the valley, he said.
“We all want to stay here in beautiful Steamboat Springs, Colorado and we want our businesses to grow,” Freeman said. “We want to build businesses like Smartwool. We want to build the finest homes in the world. We can’t do that if we don’t have a workforce.”
Steamboat Springs STR tax adds a 9% sales tax to all short-term rental stays and went into effect at the start of this year. Through August, the tax has generated just over $7 million in revenue.
Freeman emphasized 2I is not a tax increase, but an allocation of a resource that already exists.
“That resource is going to an organization that has already successfully been putting houses in the ground,” Freeman said. “This is the next step. Any funding that we can get from this short-term rental tax is going to go to putting houses in the ground. On top of that, before we have any vertical or horizontal construction, we’re able to use that short-term rental tax to fund city projects like Highway 40 and public parks.”
Mauldin argued that even if the measure were to pass, there is still a funding gap — a reference to what is referred to as the capital gap.
That gap has been viewed in a variety of ways, but according to City Finance Director Kim Weber stands at about $52 million. This figure represents infrastructure costs that are allocated to the city, but for which there is not identified funding. While there are infrastructure costs allocated to the city in the annexation agreement, there is nothing forcing the city to allocate the funding.
“The money is just not there and even if the money was there, there is still the moral question of are taxpayers going to subsidize a billion-dollar corporation like Alterra (Mountain Company) so they don’t have to pay a higher wage?” Mauldin asked, referencing the parent company of Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. “I don’t think it is right that these private business owners should enjoy a lighter payroll cycle because the taxpayers of Steamboat Springs are picking up that tab.”
Mauldin said if the measure were to fail, it would open the door for government to “stay in their lane.” By this, Mauldin said he meant government building housing for essential public workers and creating zoning policies that encourage housing development.
“I’m not opposed to developing housing, I’m opposed to taxpayers subsidizing the labor of private businesses and calling that housing,” Mauldin said.
Freeman said the ballot measure failing would be a “misfortune.” If the measure were to fail, he said the STR revenues that need to be spent to support housing would have nowhere to go.
“The Yampa Valley Housing Authority is the community-accountable organization with the proven track record of putting houses in the ground, so where else would the money go?” Freeman asked.
If the measure were to fail, council could still appropriate STR tax revenues to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority for Brown Ranch on an annual basis. Voter approval is needed to make the long-term funding commitment, as the current city council cannot commit future city funds unless there is a public vote.