Steamboat Springs City Council spent a year considering a property tax to help fund the city's Parks and Recreation efforts in 2021 but ultimately decided not to bring the proposal to voters.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Bryan Swintek's name.
Talk of a property tax in Steamboat Springs surfaced once again on Tuesday as Council member Bryan Swintek suggested the city should explore a dedicated revenue source for Parks and Recreation during a discussion about adding a second sheet of ice at Howelsen Ice Arena.
While council expressed openness to providing some funding for the project, exactly where that would come from wasn’t entirely clear.
“I’m tired of having these conversations and then saying we don’t have the $3 million,” Swintek said, referencing the amount of money requested for the sheet of ice in the form of a matching grant.
“The seven of us sitting here have this ability and so I would love for us to explore a property tax for Parks and Rec so we have a dedicated funding source so we can invest in our locals… so we no longer have to sit here and rationalize why we can’t,” Swintek continued.
“You went there,” said Council member Michael Buccino in response.
“It needed to be said,” Swintek replied.
Council did not discuss a property tax following Swintek’s comment and he clarified that he didn’t think the discussion should be tied to the second sheet of ice conversation.
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 exactly what Swintek proposed in 2020 and 2021 before ultimately canceling that effort fearing a new tax would be rejected by voters.
That proposal would have been for a 2-mill property tax that would have been dedicated to Parks and Recreation uses, but city council at the time felt it wasn’t ready for “prime time,” according to reporting from Steamboat Pilot & Today. Even the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club had withdrawn their support for the new tax.
“Hopefully in another year, we can come back and try again,” then Council President Robin Crossan said in July of 2021 as Council voted unanimously to end property tax talks.
Funding isn’t just a challenge for Parks and Recreation though. A property tax has also been discussed in the context of transit funding as the city is struggling to keep pace with increased costs for its bus service. In 2021, then council member Lisel Petis suggested the next property tax effort should be focused on transit, not parks.
The Yampa Valley Bugle asked city council candidates including Swintek about the prospects of a property tax ahead of November’s election.
As a candidate in August Swintek said he needed more time to get feedback from the community before forming his opinion on whether a property tax was needed or not.
When asked in May, Buccino said he felt the city’s current sales tax structure has continued to work for the community and he would rather save the concept of a property tax for use as part of a Regional Transportation Authority.
As a candidate in October, Council member Steve Muntean expressed his support for the city’s current funding model as well. Muntean said he didn’t think the community would support a property tax. He suggested the city should be focused on addressing issues that could negatively impact sales taxes such as the lack of housing that limits the output of local businesses.
Council President Gail Garey showed her support when a property tax came up in July as council discussed whether to exempt sales taxes on personal hygiene products like diapers. At the time, Crossan said such an exemption could be used as a bargaining chip with voters if and when council were to revisit a property tax.
Initial proposals for a new property tax in 2021 included changes to sales taxes with one proposal eliminating sales taxes on certain items like groceries or utilities and another simply reducing the sales tax rate across the board by 0.5%.
“I would be more than happy to work on a property tax with you,” Garey told Crossan during the July discussion.