Glenwood Springs City Council to consider putting two tourism-related taxes on ballot
Council to also consider mill levy, bond question for airport tunnel, improvements
A potential tax question on November’s ballot divided opinions of the Glenwood Springs City Council during a special work session Tuesday.
Raising Glenwood Springs’ lodging tax and introducing an attractions tax, which are not currently taxed by the city, could be on the November ballot if City Council votes Sept. 2 to move forward with the question.
City Attorney Karl Hanlon explained an attractions tax – if approved by voters – could be a tax collected on ticketed events and attractions such as the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, Iron Mountain Hot Springs or “any place or event open to the public,” which charges for admission.
Tuesday’s special work session was requested by city staff to guide the drafting of tax language for the council to consider during its regular session Sept. 2, however, the conversation quickly turned to whether this year was the right time to present a tax question at all.
“I think the last thing the community needs right now is another tax,” Council Member Tony Hershey said during his opening comments. “I’m not interested in talking about this now.”
Mayor Pro Tem Charlie Willman and Council Member Ingrid Wussow agreed with Hershey to varying degrees, but emphasized they would support tax questions on a 2022 ballot, which Hershey later said he would support. Waiting a year would give the council time to engage with the community, research lodging and attractions tax data from similarly sized cities as well as get the item on a ballot during a general election year, Willman said.
Wussow said the proposal was premature and expressed concerns about the speed at which the tax questions would need to be drafted.
The tax questions would need to be submitted to the Garfield County Clerk’s office by Sept. 3 in order to be added to the November ballot, Hanlon said.
Some council members said conversations should be had with the lodging community before considering the tax questions, but Mayor Jonathan Godes countered with a recent city poll, suggesting residents wanted affordable housing now.
“This is not a tax for the lodging community,” Godes said. “It is a tax on the lodging community to help create revenue for affordable housing.”
Of the approximately 11 percent lodging tax applied to stays at Glenwood’s hotels, the city only receives about 2.5 percent. Godes told council Denver charges nearly 11 percent on top of state-collected lodging taxes.
Council Member Paula Stepp said she supported a ballot question increasing lodging tax, but said she’d like to wait on the attractions tax.
“My sense is that our community members don’t feel like they’ve been part of the process,” Stepp said.
For years, council and the lodging community have debated increased lodging taxes with little or no movement, Council Member Shelley Kaup said, prefacing her support for the ballot question.
“We’re always told ‘Let’s wait a couple years’ or ‘We can’t work on this yet,’” Kaup said. “How much revenue have we missed out on?”
Although Kaup later struggled about whether city staff should devote time in the next week drafting questions, she ended her comments with support for moving forward this year, rather than potentially losing tax revenues for another year.
Council Member Steve Davis initially voiced opposition to the draft questions presented during the work session, but said he could support adding the questions to the ballot if some of the tax revenue was dedicated specifically to offsetting the impacts of tourism on the community as well as funding additional marketing tools for tourism.
While percentages for the proposed lodging tax, nor the attractions tax are not yet determined, some numbers floated during the meeting were raising the city’s lodging tax to 7 percent and introducing the attractions tax at 3.7 percent.
Because council cannot take action during a work session, no vote was counted, but a majority of councilors agreed city staff should draft ballot questions for council’s review Sept. 2.
To fund a proposed tunnel under the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport, connecting Midland Avenue to the proposed South Bridge project, City Council could add a mill levy and bond question to the November ballot.
Digging a tunnel under the airport runway, however, could affect the city’s numerous operations on the property, according to City Engineer Terri Partch and Parks and Recreation Director Brian Smith.
Along with the tunnel, the airport needs a number of improvements in the next few years, which all totaled could cost about $13 million, Hanlon said.
Following the discussion, council agreed to add funding options, including a potential mill levy and bond, for the airport improvements and tunnel to the Sept. 2 council meeting agenda.
Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at email@example.com.
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