Council will talk generally about their thoughts on finding more revenue for the city at its work session next week.
Steamboat Springs City Council will have an initial discussion about the prospects of introducing a property tax at its work session next week, a request that came from new council members Bryan Swintek and Steve Muntean.
Swintek said he hoped that next Tuesday’s discussion could focus on what council members were willing to explore to increase city resources for services like parks and recreation, transit and the fire department. A prepared statement he read specifically pointed to a property tax, but said council should consider other funding options like forming a special district too.
“We love to recreate and we love our parks,” Swintek said. “The assumption that no one wants to pay for the parks they love may no longer be true. … If we keep doing what we are doing, our services will continue to get worse and this will be exacerbated as the population of Steamboat grows.”
“As a council, we need to decide whether to increase revenue and keep what we love or to decrease the services offered,” Swintek continued. “We need to start the process of making these decisions now.”
“Whether it’s just Parks and Rec or Fire District, we know that the needs that we have in the future are not going to be met by the continuation of the sales tax that we have,” Muntean said. “I understand the property tax side of things, but quite frankly we have said that for a long time that no one is ready for that, but if we put our minds together maybe we can come up with a somewhat persuasive solution.”
Council members agreed to add to next week's work session agenda to talk more about the city’s “fiscal sustainability.” Swintek specifically wanted to talk about what council members were interested in pursuing before having city staff study and present various options to council.
Swintek pushed for council to pursue a property tax for parks last month during a discussion about adding a second sheet of ice at Howelsen Hill, but council did not discuss that request in detail at the time.
“In my tenure here on City Council and Planning Commission, a property tax is a nonstarter for this town in a lot of ways, but you’re bringing a new aspect to it,” said Council member Michael Buccino.
A property tax is not a novel idea. Steamboat had a property tax until 1979 when voters opted to replace it with a 4% sales tax. For 40 years Steamboat championed its lack of a property tax and still does to some degree, though voters added a 2-mill tax to support EMS service in 2019.
The concept of introducing a new funding source for the city in the form of a property tax has frequently come up in recent years. City council spent a year studying a property tax for parks in 2020 and 2021 before ultimately canceling that effort fearing a new tax would be rejected by voters.
“We spent about nine months providing fiscal sustainability options to the previous council and so we have a lot of that information prepared already,” said City Manager Gary Suiter. “I would encourage council to look at all the possibilities and then you need to consider the political viability too.”
Council member Joella West pushed back on having the discussion so soon, feeling that Council should gather more information about what various options are before picking which ideas to pursue in more detail.
“If there is urgency to put something on a ballot you are going to find a roadblock here because I don’t have enough information to stand behind anything on the ballot yet,” West said. “I would like to acquire information and then be able to apply whatever I’ve just learned to perhaps a more intelligent decision on whether it makes sense to put it on the ballot.”
Whether council would put a property tax question on the ballot this November remains to be seen and several council members stressed that they did not want to rush this discussion. Suiter said if the ultimate goal is to bring a question to voters this year, then work on that needs to start now.