Lodging a question

Should outfitters pay the same tax as hotels?

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Although hotel and motel patrons pay a 1.9-percent lodging tax on their rooms in Moffat County, guests at area hunting lodges don't.

But should they? It's a recurring question, as thousands of hunters descend on the area each year.

Some tourism officials say it's only fair that anyone renting lodging should pay the tax, which generates between $80,000 to $100,000 a year for the Moffat County Tourism Association.

But few are pushing the politically unpopular notion, at least publicly.

Outfitters and guides argue they shouldn't have to pay the tax because they don't sell lodging, but rather a hunting package that includes lodging.

Moffat County voters appr--oved the lodging tax in the 1980s. Revenue from the tax supports the Moffat County Tourism Ass--ociation, which is charged with luring visitors here.

"I kind of have a mixed opinion on it," said Richard Blakley, chairman of the association's board of directors.

If hotel guests have to pay the tax, then so should anyone staying at a hunting cabin or bunkhouse, Blakley said.

Still, Blakley said he wasn't sure he supported having guides and outfitters pay the tax.

Just how much money would be generated from imposing the lodging tax on outfitters is unclear.

But with about a dozen outfitters operating in the county, it could be a sizeable increase in tax revenue, Blakley said.

Without a fight

When hunters come to Myers Hunting Service in Hamilton, they pay for the entire hunt, not for a room, owner Don Myers said.

Myers charges a lump sum for the entire package, he said. There isn't an individual charge for a bed or for the guided hunts.

But the possibility of being charged the lodging tax doesn't worry Myers too much. No one has ever asked that he pay the tax, he said. But if Myers had to pay it, he said, he would do so without a fight.

"If they determine I need to pay it, I will," Myers said. "If they don't, I won't."

Several outfitters declined to comment on the hot-button issue.

Little benefit

In 2000 and 2001, the tourism association considered charging outfitters a lodging tax.

But after studying the issue, the association and the Colorado Department of Revenue said outfitters shouldn't have to pay a lodging tax.

"Honestly, I don't think they charge for lodging," said Mikki O'Brien, former chairwoman of the tourism association.

O'Brien, the general manager at the Holiday Inn, said hotels such as hers pay the lodging tax because they sell lodging. Outfitters sell a hunting package, she said.

Also, O'Brien said she didn't want to burn any bridges with outfitters by forcing them to pay a tax that she didn't think would benefit the association very much.

"We simply, in the lodging industry, could not live without them," O'Brien said.

Some of the hunters who stay in her hotel are also customers of local hunting guides, she said.

Gary Cook, owner of Taylor Street Bed and Breakfast, said he doesn't think outfitters should pay a lodging tax, though he pays one.

Cook also is a tourism association member.

"It would probably cost more than it would be worth," Cook said.

Brandon Johansson can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or bjohansson@craigdailypress.com.

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