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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Council walks back property tax talk, wants working group to explore potential revenue options

Initial talk suggests council will form a working group later this year to have Steamboat’s “long overdue, awkward conversation” about funding the city as revenues are not keeping pace with expenses.

Members of Steamboat Springs City Council sought to walk back brewing property tax talk on Tuesday in what was billed as “the first of many” discussions about whether council should pursue additional revenue streams for city coffers.

Council member Bryan Swintek — who first mentioned a new property tax for parks in January — led a presentation to his fellow council members suggesting that they need to start Steamboat’s “long overdue, awkward conversation” about how the city is funded and what, if any, steps council should take to supplement revenues.

“We will not be rushing this discussion,” Swintek said. “It’s an exploratory discussion and it will be a ballot question in 2025 at the earliest. We are not rushing this for this year.”

The central question of Swintek’s presentation was “whether City Council supports a commitment to explore options for diversifying and growing Steamboat’s revenues.” To that question, council members agreed the answer was ‘yes’ while stressing that growing revenue streams was not exclusive to a property tax.

City Finance Director Kim Weber prepared a document outlining various taxes and fees the city could (or already does) turn to for revenue. These range from the obvious like property and sales taxes, to the more obscure, such as a vacancy tax or stormwater utility. Other options that have been discussed in the past like paid parking downtown were not on the list, but would likely be included in revenue talks.

Ultimately, Swintek proposed council form a working group tasked with exploring options for new revenue, gathering feedback from would-be voters and making recommendations to council about how to proceed. Council members were generally supportive of forming such a group, though exactly how large a group, who would be part of it and when it would be required to deliver those recommendations was not extensively discussed.

“The concern that I had, which as of the last two minutes I don’t have anymore, is that we would be tossing something out to the community that sounded like we were going to be exploring property taxes,” said Council member Joella West. “I really like the idea of a working group. … In my head, the momentum builds from there and not from anything any member of this council is going to stand up and say.”

Council member Michael Buccino said “fiscal sustainability” has long been part of City Council’s goals, but that they had never really addressed it fully. Buccino added that at one time council talked about removing it as a goal “because we’re not really doing anything.”

“It’s the elephant in the room and it needed to be brought up,” Buccino said. “I don’t know where it would go, but I think it’s great that we would at least start the conversation.”

Council member Steve Muntean, who joined Swintek in asking for Tuesday’s discussion, said the purpose of the working group would be to start the discussion without any assumptions.

“I kind of look at this as almost a fresh piece of paper,” Muntean said. “We’re not starting from the standpoint of let’s put a property tax in. That’s not what we’re starting from at all. It’s just how can we increase and diversify the revenue sources.”

The city has employed committees to discuss alternative funding before and council explored the prospects of a new property tax as recently as 2021. City Manager Gary Suiter said an important factor in these discussions are economic trends.

“The other wildcard is the state of the economy — that is what killed it last time,” Suiter said of the 2021 property tax discussion. “Sales taxes exploded and council said ‘we really don’t have an argument with money rolling in.’”

While Swintek said he had hoped to limit staff time being devoted to these discussions, Weber said she felt if council wanted to make it a priority then it needed to be a priority for staff as well. Council has another fiscal sustainability discussion planned for its June work session.

“I see no basis to object to this at all,” West said. “And if it fails, well, we’ve been there before.”

Top Photo Caption: Steamboat Springs Finance Director Kim Weber uses candy and various jars to demonstrate the dynamics of how the city receives revenue and how they is spent. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)


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