Local officials look to new lodging tax for economic development dollars | CraigDailyPress.com

Local officials look to new lodging tax for economic development dollars

Owners of the Hampton Inn & Suites are among several Craig hoteliers who signed a petition to put a Local Marketing District on the November ballot, which would create a new 4-percent lodging tax on hotel rooms and accommodations in Craig and Moffat County in order to fund economic development and tourism promotion in the region.

— Community leaders have been busy in recent months brainstorming ways to bolster Moffat County's economic future amid myriad challenges facing the region's energy-based economy, and a proposed lodging tax is quickly gaining traction.

Craig City Mayor Ray Beck and Moffat County Commissioner Frank Moe are working to rally support for the creation of a Local Marketing District, an additional 4-percent lodging tax that could raise an estimated $275,000 per year to use for local economic development, marketing and tourism promotion.

The tax would be applied to hotel rooms and accommodations sold within Moffat County, including Craig and the town of Dinosaur, additional to the current 1.9 percent lodging tax — that directly funds Moffat County Tourism Association — and a 7.15 percent sales tax. The resulting 13.05-percent room tax would be about 1.5 to 4.5 percentage points higher than those in neighboring Steamboat Springs, Meeker or Vernal, Utah.

According to Colorado Revised Statutes, funds raised by the LMD can be used to support the promotion of tourism activities, business recruitment, management and development and the organization and promotion of public events, such as Craig's largest annual event, Whittle the Wood Rendezvous.

"The NACo (National Association of Counties) team came back (from the Innovation Challenge for coal-reliant communities) and one of the things that we were charged with was to find a long-term, permanent funding source for economic development, diversity and tourism," Moe said. "If we don't take our economic future into our own hands, we're going to be blowing in the wind, so this gives us the opportunity to know what we're going to do."

In order to put the LMD proposal before voters in November, supporters must collect signed petitions from commercial property owners — representing at least 50 percent of the assessed commercial property value in Moffat County — by early-to mid-August. The lead petitioners are commercial property owners Jay Oxley, Dave DeRose and Kerry Moe.

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Several large property owners such as Tri-State Generation and Transmission and Moffat County School District are not eligible to sign, as they are assessed by the state. The largest county-assessed commercial property owner is Walmart, at nearly $2 million in taxable value, according to 2014 numbers.

Initial discussion about the proposal has brought forth the idea of a merger of Craig's three leading tourism and economic development organizations: Craig Chamber of Commerce, MCTA and the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership.

"We thought that merging the three entities, with the same board and a secure, long-term source of funding would be great for establishing a structure for implementing the plan," said Chamber Director Christina Oxley.

Directors of all three entities are interested in pursuing the idea and already have the tentative support of all three boards of directors. An initial proposal included bringing the organizations under the same roof, and possibly even seeking historic preservation grants to relocate and restore the Union Pacific Railroad Depot.

Moe refrained from commenting directly on the proposal, emphasizing that he wanted to follow the process and allow time for other ideas to enter the discussion. DeRose asserted that the planning should wait until the LMD ballot measure has passed.

The NACo team has discussed hiring an "economic champion" to oversee use of the funds, however, additional to the current three organizations. Oxley would like to see a more well-defined plan before the question goes to voters.

"There's really no structure as to how that would work, how those relationships would work with the creation of another position," Oxley said. "I think it's critical that a plan be established now. … The voters want to know what this money's going to do, how it's going to get done and how it's going to get measured."

CMEDP Director Audrey Danner and MCTA Director Melody Villard both expressed excitement about creating a more unified tourism and economic development team and reducing duplication between the three organizations. They also agreed it would be valuable to have a plan before taking the question to voters, but community input will help develop that plan.

"When you have big ideas like this, you're going to have a variety of discussions and a variety of opinions. Sometimes that does seem messy," Danner said. "People will agree or disagree … but that is the process from which ideas build."

If enough petitions are gathered by the goal date of Aug. 5 — at latest, they must be in by Aug. 17 — then two public meetings will be held to gather input. The city of Craig, town of Dinosaur and Moffat County must then pass resolutions or ordinances to add the question to the ballot.

"Our focus is bringing the community together and growing our local economy and the only way we can accomplish that is by being unified," Beck said. "Everybody has an idea and there's no bad ideas out there."

The petitioners must collect signatures from property owners totaling a value of more than $18 million, representing half the totaled value of nearly 500 commercial properties in Craig.

In just a little more than a week, DeRose said volunteers, including himself, have gathered signatures representing roughly $5 million of assessed commercial value, including Best Western Plus Deer Park Inn & Suites — owned by Frank and Kerry Moe — Village Inn and the Hampton Inn & Suites.

Moffat County hoteliers — whose businesses would be directly impacted by the tax — are largely supportive of the initiative.

"A lot of the businesses are sounding very positive, they know they have to do something," said Doyle O'Neil, general manager of the Hampton, who is helping to gather signatures. "We might as well pass it on to the consumer to improve the Moffat County lifestyle. Nobody in Craig can afford a property tax hike, nobody can take a personal tax increase, so let outsiders pay … to bring other businesses into Craig."

For more information on Moffat County’s proposed Local Marketing District, visit votelmd.com.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com.

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