Lodging tax goes to Rifle voters
Some are calling it a lodging tax that will benefit all businesses in Rifle. Some are calling it a penalty tax that will drive customers away from local motels.But either way, it will be up to the voters in Rifle to decide whether to implement a 2.5 percent sales tax increase on lodging facilities within the city.In a forum at the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce’s monthly breakfast meeting Thursday, five community members and business owners stated their positions – pro and con – on the proposed tax.The Rifle City Council, Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Development Authority and the Rifle Metropolitan Park District have endorse the lodging tax.Proponents of the tax point out that only those staying in the city’s motels for 30 days or less will pay the increase – not residents. If passed, the lodging facilities would collect the tax and the chamber of commerce would disperse it for marketing the city to help attract more tourists. The tax would generate an estimated $50,000 per year and help implement a marketing plan that would include building up the city’s Internet presence, public-relations campaigns, printed materials promoting the city and bringing additional customers to all of Rifle’s businesses.The tax is estimated to cost an additional $1.25 per night to motel customers.”Ultimately, I think what is good for the city is good for the local motels,” said City Councilman Jeff Johnson, a participant in the forum. “The goal is to stimulate the economy and development in Rifle.”Tom Stuver, chairman of the DDA, said his board of directors debated the merits of the tax before deciding to endorse the measure.”The reason this proposal is acceptable from an organizational standpoint, is that there are two levels of checks and balances,” Stuver said. “The first is that the city council will review it annually and the second is that the chamber of commerce will review the expenditures. The board felt this offers potential and enhances the business community, and makes Rifle an even more attractive place to do business and to come and spend money here.”However, two of Rifle’s four motel owners and operators say they are against the tax and that it would drive away a large portion of their business – mainly workers in the oil and gas industry who come to stay for an undetermined amount of time.Bunny Rohrig, manager and co-owner of the Rusty Cannon Motel, read a letter from her brother and partner, Robert M. Cross, opposing the tax.”The guests who stay in Rifle are 75 percent energy business related and are here developing a tax base, whose windfall this city experienced this past year,” Cross wrote. “It seems to me that a room tax becomes a penalty tax on those who, while staying in Rifle away from their homes, are building lasting benefit for Rifle.”Kris Swallow, owner/operator of the Red River Inn and Swallow Oil, agreed, saying that most of the customers at his motel were also temporary industry workers.”An extra tax is wrong for them – it’s just another burden on them,” Swallow said. “They don’t know if they’re going to be here for six months or longer, so they’re staying in the motels. A $1.50 a day (added charge) adds up.”The owner of the Buckskin Inn disagreed. Trent Pierson first came to Rifle on a hunting trip from California and moved here three years ago. At that time, he said he’d never heard of Rifle or the Western Slope.”We get to use this revenue to hopefully bring different types of businesses and different types of revenue here,” Pierson said. “I’d like to see the town diversify and be on the map.”The Winchester Motel has also voiced its endorsement of the lodging tax.The motel owners said that half of the industry workers pay for their own lodging out-of-pocket. They also said that the workers help round out the lean winter months from November to May.Stuver pointed out that the tax would help fund an increased marketing plan that would help bring tourists to the city during those months.”The marketing will increase winter tourism such as cross country skiing, snowmobiling and winter sports,” Stuver said. “I think there are opportunities here where a downside has been. We need to look at where those opportunities are in the future.””The marketing will increase winter tourism such as cross country skiing, snowmobiling and winter sports,” Stuver said. “I think there are opportunities here where a downside has been. We need to look at where those opportunities are in the future.”
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