Joe Ence, a Moffat County resident who lives outside Craig city limits, came to a Craig lodging tax forum Wednesday with a few questions.
Ence said he was concerned about potential damage the proposed 6.9-percent lodging tax would have on the area’s image for visitors.
“Maybe the hunters that have been coming every year … go, ‘You know, this little town is expensive — milk, eggs, gas and now hotels,’” he said.
Ence said he believes the community could promote the area without the 6.9-percent levy, which will be up for vote in Tuesday’s general election.
“Things are working,” he said of current marketing efforts. “I don’t know if we need a 7-percent add on to do this. We just need more involvement, we need to keep people thinking, and I think we are on the right track.”
Craig resident Dave DeRose, who served on the committee that worked for several months to develop the lodging tax proposal, had a response for Ence.
“No, we’re not,” DeRose said.
“If we don’t position (ourselves) by proper marketing … we won’t recover. We will still have the same problem we have got today.”
Ence was one of about 20 residents who attended the forum at Craig City Hall hosted by Progress For Craig, a group seeking to promote the potential tax.
The forum focused on answering residents’ questions about how the 6.9-percent tax would be used to market the area, what capital improvements would be built with the tax money, and what its benefits and consequences could be to the community.
DeRose said Craig needs to start marketing itself to improve the local economy.
“I believe in my heart … that we have to do something or more people are going to fail than we can ever guess,” he said. “If we do nothing right now this is probably the best it is going to be. And if we do this, and it was the worst it ever was, won’t we be happy about that?”
Several members of the local lodging industry expressed concerns about potential impacts the tax would have on their businesses.
Diana Cook, co-owner of the Taylor Street Bed & Breakfast, said she was concerned about the percentage and nature of the tax.
“I think right now it is because of the economy,” she said of why tourism in the area isn’t thriving. “And we are 50 percent down due to the economy, but yet you are only going to target the lodging people for taxes instead of the whole (city).”
Craig resident Ken Wergin said the lodging industry would ultimately benefit from the tax.
“You are going to collect that money and that money, by God, if I am around … better go toward the people who are collecting it,” he said. “The best way to do that is by marketing the area in tourism to bring the people.”
Wergin also implored lodging representatives to “get off the tax (and) look at the benefits.”
Craig resident Chris Jones spoke to the potential benefits of the tax to the area’s economy. He contends businesses might be lured to the area if tourism increases.
“They are going to say, ‘Wow, they just passed this tourism tax, they are building this, building that, that is going to be a place where I want to build my business,” he said.
But, Jones asked the audience why a business would invest in Craig, “when we are not invested in Craig?”
Craig resident Scott Cook said “it is time we try to do something for ourselves” to bolster the economy.
Diana Cook responded by saying she agreed, but “the rate they are asking right now with the economy the way it sits is awful high.”
“Like with our business, because the economy is so bad, we have to get a bigger piece of the pie,” Scott Cook said in response. “But what this will do is it’ll make the pie bigger.”
George Rohrich, chief executive officer of The Memorial Hospital, said there would be long-term benefits to the city if the measure passes.
“I believe there is risk and there is benefit that are hard to determine,” he said. “But, I believe … that the benefit, especially moving out in time, has huge momentum and if you are not running at maximum today, it is going to help you get there.”
After the meeting, DeRose said he thought the forum helped convince a few people who were on the fence about the measure to vote in favor.
“Now, was that a good use of two hours to get two votes?” he said. “I suppose so.”
DeRose said he was unsure if the measure would pass. When asked if he thought Progress for Craig did enough to educate the community about the benefits of the tax, he said “probably not.”
“But, I don’t know if there ever is enough,” he said. “But, I think we did all we could do in the time we were allotted.”