Lodging tax boards questioned | CraigDailyPress.com

Lodging tax boards questioned

Lois Wymore

The Meeker Lodging Tax Board recently released figures that indicate the board is financially viable and available to help with funding of projects that will generate tourist dollars in Rio Blanco County.

Previous requests for a fund balance in the board’s Meeker account were denied because board members were unsure whether such information should be divulged to the public.

“The board wanted to make sure it was legal to give out that kind of information,” board member L.D. Grove said.

The balance, which is $112,826.11, was called into question by area residents who had concerns about the Meeker board and the Rangely Lodging Tax Board, both of which receive funds from a special tax collected on any business in Rio Blanco County that provides a lodging service. The tax is collected by the state and returned to the county at the end of each fiscal year. The county then disburses the funds to each board based on its collections.

Concerned residents were unable to locate applications for the board positions — commissioners appoint three members to each board — and could not find posted board meeting times or agendas. Rio Blanco County commissioners determined that the lodging tax boards had not had formal audits in recent history and would be included in the 2005 audit process. In addition, commissioners recommended that the each board hold a quarterly meeting to allow for public input and a public process.

According to the Colorado Revised Statute, the tax monies allocated to each board are to be used to promote tourism in Rio Blanco County.

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Grove said that the board’s primary role is to look at proposals from outside entities that will generate local tourism dollars, and to determine what, if any, level of funding will be awarded.

“Some months we review several proposals, and other times we have none,” Grove said. “We want to give this money out, but it must fit within the rules.”

Misconceptions about what exactly the money should be used for may play a part in why local residents are questioning the board and its practices.

“We are not here as seed money to start new businesses. Our task is to see if the proposal will bring in a significant number of tourists to town so they (the tourist) will spend their money here,” he said.

Events that the board has funded include the Sheepdog Trials, annual Cowboy Poetry event and the Range Call Festival in addition to helping with Meeker Chamber of Commerce marketing.

“We tend to grant for advertising out of the area,” he said. “We like to give new projects the financial boost the first time and a little less the second time only because we hope they end up on their own,” he said.

Grove defended their discussion not to award a grant to Colorado Northwestern Community College for a new campus radio station.

“We did not think it fit the criteria well,” he said.

He said the Meeker and Rangely boards were open to a countywide tourism guide and hoped someone would come forward with the project.

“Both boards are very supportive of a countywide travel guide, but again our job is not to come up with ideas,” he said.

Grove denied that the bulk of the money was being set aside for use in the planned information center on the west side of town.

“We hope we’ll have money to help with that project, but who knows when or if that can happen,” he said. “Our focus is here and now and supporting projects that do promote tourism in our area.”

The largest amount awarded so far this year is $4,000 for the trailer/roping event coming in late August. It is estimated the event will bring about 200 people to the Meeker area who are expected to stay at least two nights. The winning roper takes home a trailer as a grand prize.

“We paid for half the trailer,” he said. “We think this may become an annual event.”

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