Council granted first of two approvals needed to place questions on ballot Tuesday, and more measures could be coming.
Steamboat Springs voters will see at least two ballot questions on the November ballot, including an updated accommodations tax and increased city council pay, and more ballot measures could be coming.
City Council approved the first of two readings needed to officially refer each of these two questions on Tuesday, with the second readings needing to be complete by early September.
The updated accommodations tax language has been in the works since early in the year and is needed as ballot language approved in 2013 for how to spend these dollars is set to expire this year. Without an updated measure approved by voters, the spending parameters of the tax would revert to the original language approved in 1986, which importantly, does not allow money from the tax to be spent on the upkeep of amenities it has been used to build.
The other ballot measure to increase city council salaries was discussed in May, where a majority on council said they felt an increase in council pay would make serving on the city’s governing board to local workers. As proposed on Tuesday, the pay for a council member would increase from just under $12,000 a year to $20,000.
The two measures could be just the start of referred ballot questions this election cycle, with several other topics potentially being placed on the ballot. One of those potential questions would be a largely procedural change to the city’s charter to push back an audit deadline, but other questions would likely pertain to the Brown Ranch.
The Yampa Valley Housing Authority has asked for council to ask voters one of two questions in relation to Brown Ranch funding as well. The first would be to authorize the city to bond the short-term rental tax and the other would make a $10 million yearly commitment of STR tax revenues to YVHA for Brown Ranch.
The annexation agreement itself could also be placed on the ballot, if an agreement is struck in time to make this November’s election. Council also has four seats up for grabs this fall.
The new accommodations tax question was molded from the 1986 version, with the intent of removing pitfalls of that language like not allowing funds to be used for maintenance. Because this money could only go toward new projects, it has added more to the list of what the Parks and Recreation Budget has needed to maintain.
The ability to fund “maintenance of improvements” is part of the new question and would allow accommodations tax dollars to be used to maintain a variety of amenities.
Additionally, the question would allow the city to use this funding to “acquire real property for parks,” giving the city a long searched for funding mechanism to add parklands. It also includes a statement allowing funding to be used to “preserve the city’s natural resources.”
The only change to the proposed language made by council on Tuesday was to substitute the phrase “environmental desirability” for “environmental sustainability,” agreeing that the former language in the measure was somewhat undefinable.
That said, the question is written to include broad language and provide council flexibility in how the funding could be spent, City Attorney Dan Foote said.
What the new question does not do is directly say that some of this funding could flow toward the Steamboat Springs Chamber for destination stewardship, though it likely would be allowed based on the broadness of the question.
Council member Michael Buccino pushed to add language that would directly invoke providing funding to the Chamber, but failed to gain support from others on council. The first reading passed 5-1, with Buccino opposed and council member Heather Sloop absent.
City Council Pay
The question to raise city council pay came from a realization of some on council how much work serving has become. In an earlier meeting on the topic, Sloop had estimated she is devoting anywhere from 25 to 35 hours a week lately, a larger commitment than when she was first elected to council.
Currently, council members are paid $11,900 in a stipend and receive the option of some of the city’s employee benefits. The council president and president pro-tem receive a bit more at $15,800 and $13,900, respectively. This is relatively close to the average across mountain towns, though Steamboat does meet more frequently and for longer than many other jurisdictions.
If approved by voters as currently proposed, a council member would be paid $20,000, the president pro-tem $22,500 and the president $25,000.
“Community expectations have grown over the years and in order to keep up with those expectations it does require more time and more dedication to this role,” said Council Member Dakotah McGinlay. “Therefore, it is becoming harder and harder I think to find this role appetizing.”
Still, some on council were reluctant. Council Member Joella West said she didn’t support any level of raises and wasn’t sure that increasing council pay would spur a more diverse pool of candidates for council as hoped. Council President Robin Crossan was supportive of raises, but successfully lobbied her colleagues to lower the increase for a council members from $25,000 to $20,000.
Council voted 4-2 to approve the first reading of the ballot question, with West and Crossan opposed and Sloop absent. Crossan said she was supportive of a $ 20,000-a-year salary, but couldn’t support that increase going into effect for all council members on Jan. 1 if approved in November. Instead, Crossan said she would support the new raise going into effect for a council member when they are elected, reelected or appointed to council.