By Jim Stanford on January 6, 2011
The community scored a small victory Tuesday when Teton County commissioners stood firm and thwarted a plan to cede control over lodging tax revenues to the lodging and resort industry.
Commissioners Andy Schwartz, Hank Phibbs and Ben Ellis, as well as Town Councilors Greg Miles and Melissa Turley, deserve praise for maintaining maximum flexibility for the makeup of the board that will oversee the newly reinstated tax.
“Our responsibility is not to the lodging industry or the ski community but to the people who passed it,” Schwartz said, according to the News&Guide.
Mayor Mark Barron had pushed a proposal that he said “stacks the deck,” requiring four of the seven members of the tax board to come from the lodging and resort industry. He also called for designating a seat for someone from an arts or cultural entity.
Now, elected officials will have a freer hand in selecting board members.
The 2 percent tax on hotel rooms, passed by voters in November after a 16-year hiatus, is expected to generate about $3.5 million annually. The board will control how roughly $2.1 million is spent on travel and tourism promotion, with the rest going to local government and visitor services.
State statute mandates that four of the seven board members come from the tourism industry, not necessarily lodging. Tourism could include restaurants, retail, recreation, cultural events and so on.
The Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce had lobbied hard on behalf of Barron’s plan, saying people involved in lodging and resorts have the most marketing experience and would be best qualified to serve on the board.
But throughout the campaign to get the tax passed, voters were wary of handing a huge subsidy to the lodging industry. Many citizens remain wary of overpromoting Jackson Hole, which is why the tax was defeated three times since 1994. Proponents have said marketing efforts will focus on winter and shoulder season visitation.
The town and county approved a joint powers agreement Tuesday to establish the lodging tax board without specific requirements for the makeup of the seats, aside from state statute. As a compromise, the two entities discussed a nonbinding advisory policy that would give “preference” to three members of the lodging and resort industry, but they could not reach a consensus.
The joint powers agreement ensures that future leaders won’t be shackled to appointing a majority of representatives from lodging and resorts, although members of those industries are expected to play a key role on the board.
According to the News&Guide, Commissioner Paul Vogelheim worried about the “message we’re sending to the community” when town and county didn’t agree.
After repeated promises to the contrary, stacking the deck in favor of the lodging and resort industry would have sent a far worse message.
• supporting the lodging tax, with reservations (Nov. 2, 2010)
• Hallelujah: lodging tax finally resurfaces (Feb. 19, 2010)