Possible tax questions for voters discussed

Tread of Pioneers Museum likely will seek mill levy for funding

— Voters can expect taxes to support the city's fire and ambulance services and to fund the Tread of Pioneers Museum on November's ballot.

At a joint meeting Tuesday, the Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County commissioners made a list of possible tax questions for the next five years. The City Council said a fire tax is likely to reappear in 2003. County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said a tax seeking funding for a new courthouse remains questionable. Both boards said taxes for affordable housing and airport improvements would have to wait.

The Tread of Pioneers Museum plans to ask taxpayers for funding this year. Board member Jayne Hill told the council and commissioners the museum board would likely vote this week to try to form a museum district and seek a mill levy. She said there is a $70,000 gap between revenue and funding. The museum did better than expected this year with more donations and increased membership, but Hill said it is not consistent funding.

"We can make it work (this year), and even build a little more of a reserve," Hill said. "But the year after that is just as shaky as it was before."

Hill said the board has talked about forming a special museum district, which could be expensive and timely but would allow the museum to ask for a mill levy.

The museum board also asked other county museums if they wanted to be included in the district. Hill said the other museums work on a volunteer basis and are open only during the summer, so they do not have the same operating needs as the Tread of Pioneers.

"About the last thing we want to do right now is to try for a (mill levy)," Hill said. "If there is another solution, we are certainly willing to discuss it. But we do know that time is short to make preparations to get on November's ballot."

County commissioners said they are not sure if the county is ready to again seek a property tax increase for a new county courthouse. In 2002, voters rejected the county's proposal after more than a year of preparation.

"The decision has not been made yet," Stahoviak said. "We have to go back to square one on size and location."

The council and commissioners made a list of other possible community tax questions in the next five years. They talked about funding for a multijurisdictional housing authority, wildland fire protection, transportation, search and rescue, the expansion of the Bud Werner Memorial Library and airline subsidies.

Chamber Resort Association Executive Vice President Sandy Evans-Hall said she wanted more time before bringing an airline subsidy to the voters. With the uncertainties of United Airlines, war, terrorist attacks and the economy, Evans-Hall said it was unlikely a ballot question would come in 2003.

Councilman Loui Antonucci said in hard economic times, it will be hard to get the list of almost a dozen tax initiatives passed in the next five years.

"In this economic environment, businesses are not giving raises, waitresses working off tips are barely able to make a living, business owners are barely able to keep their doors open," Antonucci said. "We need to be very discerning and pick one or two things to try to get passed."

The group agreed to create a community tax committee, which would bring the different tax entities together to coordinate what would go on the ballot.

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