By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — Business leaders in this Yellowstone National Park gateway community are working to convince Park County voters to renew a 4 percent lodging tax, and they’re taking steps to make sure the measure isn’t confused with a separate and unrelated sales tax that is also on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Lodging taxes collected in Park County, including at properties inside Yellowstone Park, generated nearly $1.6 million in 2011 revenues used to promote the area as a tourist destination, and backers say those funds are needed to continue growing the local tourism industry.
“As long as we have a good, healthy tourism industry, we’re going to have a good, healthy economy,” said Claudia Wade, marketing director for the Park County Travel Council.
Wade spoke to Cody business leaders Monday during a Cody Country Chamber of Commerce luncheon, explaining how lodging taxes are collected and spent.
Other business leaders who have formed a political action committee to promote renewal of the lodging tax spoke in support of its renewal.
“We all agree it’s important for us and our economic health that we continue this,” said Lee Haines, a member of the Chamber board and the Cody Country PAC.
Though the lodging tax won the backing of 73 percent of Park County voters in 2008, Haines said it “worries us every four years” when the tax is up for renewal.
Park County voters typically resist any tax on the ballot, Haines said, so it’s important to remind them that the lodging tax is paid by visitors staying in hotels, dude ranches and campgrounds.
Backers said they would also work to draw a distinction between the lodging tax renewal and a proposed 1 percent sales tax that requires voter approval. That unrelated tax would bring in an estimated $6.5 million annually to be used for local infrastructure projects and repairs.
Though the Chamber backs both taxes, voters should know details of each proposal and make informed choices, said executive director Scott Balyo.
Wade said Cody and other Wyoming communities haven’t faced the same calls seen in the past two years in Montana to divert lodging taxes from tourism promotion to general revenue funds.
Montana lacks a sales tax and also administers its lodging tax expenditures on a broader, more regional scheme than in Wyoming, where cities and counties control spending at a more local level, she said.
A joint powers board with 10 volunteer members meets several times each year, typically monthly, to oversee how Park County lodging tax revenues are spent.
Promotional spending through the years has helped position Park County as a prime gateway community for Yellowstone visitors with unique attractions worth extended or repeat visits, Wade said.
“That’s what Cody was built for. We are the gateway to Yellowstone National Park,” she said. “It helps our downtown and it keeps our community vibrant.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].