February 25, 2024

Steamboat Springs officials ponder property tax possibility for parks

Steamboat Springs City Council members have agreed to begin discussions over the potential to levy a property tax to support the city’s Parks and Recreation budget.

During council members’ updates Tuesday night, Bryan Swintek read from a set of prepared remarks, saying he and council member Steve Muntean had discussed the idea and wanted to explore it further. Both are serving their first term on the council after being elected in November.

“Our discussion about the second sheet of ice brought to light two statements most Steamboat residents agree on — we love to recreate and we love our parks,” Swintek said, referencing a prior discussion on the possibility of building a second ice rink at the Howelsen Ice Complex.

“After the meeting, councilor Muntean and I discussed a belief that there is now a third statement that could be agreed on — we want to invest in our parks,” he said. “The assumption that no one wants to pay for the parks they love may no longer be true.”

Swintek went on to explain that only 4% of the 8.5% local sales tax goes directly to the city to provide services to taxpayers. He added that the demand for those services is growing faster than the city’s sales tax revenue.

“And this will be exacerbated as the population of Steamboat grows, and this is one of the concerns I have heard about Brown Ranch: Increased growth will be matched with decreased quality of the things that make it worth living here if something isn’t done,” Swintek said.

Muntean also pointed to the city’s growth as a reason to explore ways to add funding sources to support the city’s services.

“Whether it’s just Parks and Rec, or a fire district, we know the needs we have in the future are not going to be met just through the continuation of the sales tax that we have,” he said.

The city levied a property tax until the late 1970s when voters replaced it with a sales tax. In 2019, a 2-mill property tax was added to supply the city’s Fire EMS Tax Fund.

“In my tenure here on City Council and Planning Commission, property tax is a nonstarter for this town in a lot of ways, but you are bringing a new aspect of it,” council member Michael Buccino said. “With that stated as the motivator for looking into this, I think we should walk down this path for the first time in many, many years.”

City Manager Gary Suiter said staff have prepared information around the idea for previous councils, adding that there are several different ways to approach the “complex subject” of freeing up money in the city’s general fund.

“It could be property tax, could be sales tax … If we did a property tax like that, maybe we could drop the sales tax a little bit too,” Suiter said, adding that creating a special district could also be an option.

Suiter also noted council members should “consider the political viability” of creating a tax.

“Will people be more inclined to vote for public safety if you are looking for additional taxes or the fun stuff like parks and recreation?” he said. “We also need a dedicated funding source for transit.”

After mulling the idea of waiting until the summer to explore the issue, council members ultimately agreed to discuss the political aspects Suiter referenced in a work session at 5 p.m. Feb. 13 with a goal to provide staff more direction for a future information session.

Council member Joella West expressed some skepticism over the discussion, particularly as it pertained to the possibility of the council putting the matter to voters in November.

“I would like to acquire information and then be able to apply whatever I just learned to perhaps a more intelligent decision on whether it makes sense to put it on a ballot,” she said. “What happens if council puts something on the ballot and then loses. We have to be careful.”

Trevor Ballantyne is the city government and housing reporter. To reach him, call 970-871-4254 or email him at tballantyne@SteamboatPilot.com.

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