Council to hold tax talk

Community invited to share concerns

The Steamboat Springs City Council is hoping its voters can help come up with a financial policy that will work and residents will approve in the aftermath of two failed tax initiatives.

A Tuesday night council meeting is the first step in incorporating residents into a city tax policy discussion. The council has set aside most of the meeting to discuss the city's tax policy and is hoping those interested in sitting on a tax policy committee will come.

In 2002 and again in 2003, voters turned down the city's request for a property tax to help fund fire and ambulance services. The first year, the tax failed by just more than 250 votes. The second year, it failed overwhelming with more than 600 votes separating the yes and no votes.

After two failed tax ballots, City Council President Paul Strong said the council is not prepared to propose a third.

"We don't think it should come from the city council. The citizens should recommend to us what sort of revenue we should have," he said. "If it comes by our citizens, it should be more readily accepted by the citizens as a whole as opposed to the City Council saying what we should do."

Those interested in serving on a tax policy commission, which will look at ways for the city to have a more stable funding source, should come to Tuesday's meeting, Strong said.

The council is not expected to make any tax changes Tuesday, but it will hear a tax presentation from staff, discuss what options are available and better define the parameters of a tax policy committee.

"There hasn't been a conversation about this in 25 years," City Manager Paul Hughes said. "We are overdue."

Even before the November 2003 election outcome, the council members said they wanted to have a public discussion on tax policy.

Part of Tuesday's discussion will look at what opportunities the city has to tax. Past proposals made by residents, such as a real estate transfer tax or sales tax that would exempt locals, would not be allowed under Colorado state law.

One of the most discussed options would be keeping the city's revenue the same but reducing sales taxes and imposing property taxes.

"In my personal view, if we need to do something that is what we will probably do," Strong said.

But he also noted property tax can be especially burdensome on commercial property owners, who under the Gallagher Amendment have to pay three to four times more than residential property owners.

Steamboat is one of just nine communities in Colorado that do not have a property tax. About 270 communities do with an average of 13.42 mills, the city has said. Delta, Montrose and Silverthorne also are among the communities in Colorado that do not have property taxes.

The council has indicated that the tax policy committee could look at the city's financial state and then make a recommendation to the council as to what would work best. The council has to first decide how that committee will be made up, how it will be selected and what timeframe it would have.

The council has not stipulated if members should extend to those who own property in the city but are not residents and if it should look for members from specific segments of the community, Strong said.

Strong does not see the committee taking more than five or six months to make a recommendation.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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