From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 1 - 8/31/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

County-wide Lodging Tax Will Be On November Ballot
Goal is to promote county, spread revenue from visitors year round
by Rob Shaul

In August, supporters of a county-wide lodging tax succeeded in getting the County Commissioners and the town councils of Marbleton, Big Piney and Pinedale to pass resolutions placing a proposal for a 2-3% county-wide lodging tax on the November ballot. The town of Pinedale has had a lodging tax in the past, but there has never been a countywide lodging tax in Sublette County.

Leading the campaign for the lodging tax is Lakeside Lodge partner Greg Ptasnik with the support of the Pinedale Area Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Ptasnik and consultant, John Godfrey, met with the County Commissioners and town governments to get the resolutions passed.

"Level Out" Usage

The overall goal of the lodging tax will be to increase visitors to Sublette County during the winter and 'shoulder' months during the fall and spring, says Mr. Godfrey. This will have the effect of "leveling out usage" over the year, and will benefit Sublette County's economy by making it more stable and less seasonally-dependent. With the reopening of White Pine, and the real possibility of a snowmobile closure in Yellowstone, Mr. Godfrey foresees many more winter visitors coming to Sublette County to ski and snowmobile. The lodging tax could be used to promote these and other winter activities.

Visitors and tourists staying in Sublette County's motels, hotels, bed & breakfasts, guest ranches and commercial campgrounds will pay the tax. Fifteen counties and nine cities in Wyoming currently have lodging taxes, continues Mr. Godfrey. The amount of revenue the tax brings in ranges from $845,000 in Park County to $21,000 in Weston County.

The voters in the county or town that will be covered must approve the tax. According to state statute, voters can approve up to a 4% tax. Based on rough figures, Mr. Godfrey estimates that a 3% lodging tax in Sublette County will "conservatively" generate between $75,000 and $125,000 per year.

The Town of Pinedale previously had a lodging tax and when asked why the decision was made to make the tax county-wide Mr. Godfrey answered that the state statutes require that the boundaries for a lodging tax either be that of a town or include the entire county. If the tax was limited to the Town of Pinedale, the bed & breakfasts, guest ranches, and campgrounds in Cora, Boulder and Daniel would benefit from the promotion paid for by the tax, but visitors staying at these establishments wouldn't pay for that promotion. This is why the decision was made to ask for a countywide tax, says Mr. Godfrey.

Money Management

State statute requires that any money generated by a lodging tax be used to promote the county and encourage visitors to come and stay here. In the north end of Sublette County, Mr. Godfrey says the money could be used to promote the Green River Valley Rendezvous, the Mountain Man Museum, Bridger Wilderness, White Pine, snowmobiling and other tourist attractions. It could also be used to promote hockey tournaments, and other more local events that will attract participants and visitors from within Wyoming and surrounding states.

In the south end of the county, revenue from the lodging tax could be used to promote the Green River Valley Museum in Big Piney, events in the new Ag Center, the 4th of July Parade, and the Chuckwagon Days Rodeo.

If voters approve the tax, it will fall to the County Commissioners to decide how the revenue generated will be spent. According to Mr. Godfrey, in the counties that currently have a countywide lodging tax, the commissioners have appointed a board that accepts requests for funding and makes recommendations to the County Commission on how the money should be distributed. He strongly recommends a similar arrangement for Sublette County if the tax is passed here.

Confronting Opposition

Already, one Pinedale motel owner, Barbara Pfaff of the Riviera Lodge, has publicly opposed the countywide lodging tax. A few years ago, a Pinedale lodging tax proposal failed primarily because of opposition from a few local motel owners who complained about the administrative workload accounting for the tax placed on them, plus fear that the tax would cause visitors to stay somewhere else.

"There's no question, there will be a physical burden to motel owners to assess the lodging tax," responds Mr. Godfrey. "However, they [the motel owners] are the ones who stand in line to directly benefit," from the tax's use to promote visitation to Sublette County.

Mr. Godfrey says he also hears from some motel owners, "we got all the business we want," but notes that's only during the summer months and that several local lodging establishments close during the slow winter months.

By helping increase business for motel owners during the slow winter months and shoulder seasons, Mr. Godfrey argues the lodging tax will make local motels less seasonally dependent, and therefore more valuable as businesses. This means the current owners further stand to benefit when they go to sell their motels in the future.

Mr. Godfrey discounts the argument that a lodging tax will cause visitors to stay elsewhere and cost local motels business. At most, the proposed tax will increase the bill for a $100/night room by $3.00 notes Mr. Godfrey. "The idea that someone is not going to come here and stay in one of our rooms because they have to pay a dollar or more per room doesn't make sense," he argues.

The consultant continues that the lodging tax will benefit many more businesses and people than just the local motel owners. Restaurant owners, gas stations and retail stores also stand to benefit from more visitors to Sublette County. Further, as these visitors spend dollars in Sublette County, they will pay sales taxes, a portion of which will go to the town and county governments' general funds. He points out that $600,000 of the $1.1 million total tax revenue generated to fund the Town of Pinedale last year came from sales taxes generated in the town. This money is then used to help maintain and improve the town's infrastructure. "I like the idea that the people from Utah and Texas who stay here help plow our roads in the winter," says Mr. Godfrey.

Revenue from the lodging tax will be used to promote tourism in Sublette County, and many residents have mixed feelings about tourism and the growth that comes with it. Mr. Godfrey confronts this concern directly. "Do we want to become another Jackson? No. Will we? No." He emphasizes that the main goal of the lodging tax is to increase visitation during the slow winter, fall and spring months - not the busy summer. These new visitors will use existing services and infrastructure. "This isn't growth," he says, "this is usage - temporary usage, the best kind."

Political Action Committee

The lodging tax supporters are creating a political action committee or PAC, to campaign for the tax. The PAC will be called the "Citizens for the Responsible Promotion of Sublette County Programs and Tourism." The PAC is just getting formed, said Mr. Godfrey, and supporters are still recruiting representatives from the local lodging industry, Chamber of Commerce, Big Piney/Marbleton, museums and White Pine to sit on the management committee.

If county voters approve the lodging tax in November, it will come up for an automatic retention vote in four years according to County Clerk Mary Lankford. This means the tax promoters will have to demonstrate its effectiveness and convince voters to retain the tax in the near future, concludes Mr. Godfrey.

There will be an organizational and information meeting concerning the lodging tax Thursday, September 7, 7 p.m. at Lakeside Lodge. The meeting is open to the public including those concerned about the tax. "We welcome opposing views," says Mr. Godfrey.

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