GMF may consider lodging tax hike for tourism- Rick Langenberg

The town of Green Mountain Falls could become the latest community in the Pikes Peak region to consider upping its lodging levy to foot the bill for more tourism promotions and beatification efforts.

In some ways, the proposal would align GMF with similar polices in Manitou Springs and Woodland Park.

However, due to election deadlines, a vote on this tax won’t occur anytime soon. In fact, the earliest it could go before the voters would be next year, unless town leaders want to have a special election.

The Green Mountain Falls Planning Commission made several bold recommendations that raised the ire of town attorney Matt Krob, who requested more time to review the plans’ impacts. A more detailed discussion on these proposals is slated for Feb. 16.

One of the more significant measures could include a lodging tax hike from 2 to 4 percent, with the extra money being put into a select fund for tourism promotion, town beatification and the updating of temporary and year-round lodging rentals on the new town website. The new website was scheduled to launch last Thursday.

According to Planning Commission member Dick Bratton, the impetus behind the tax increase would be to give business owners more say in how this extra money is used. Bratton stressed that the tax isn’t that much different from what occurs in such tourism-friendly locales as Manitou Springs. “It’s not that unusual of a request,” said Bratton, following last week’s meeting. “It is pretty routine.”

But he made it clear that local operators should have more control over these funds.

“We don’t want these funds to go into the general fund,” explained Bratton.

He said he realized that the proposal would require a majority vote of the citizens. Bratton hopes that the current board of trustees will support the future ballot plan and formalize such action through a resolution. The extra fees would get tacked onto the lodging bills for overnight guests.

But election deadlines would prohibit such a measure from getting voted on during the April 5 municipal election. This ballot is already crammed with a record amount of candidates competing for three trustee seats and a mayoral spot.

The need for more tourism promotion has been touted by local business owners for some time and was a frequent theme cited during an economic sustainability study done several years ago. The reformation of the Ute Pass Triangle Chamber of Commerce has put more emphasis on special events.

In addition, business operators in the area want to see more focus on enhancements to the lake and Gazebo area. In fact, the need for more park improvements was cited during recent budget discussions.

Also, with a big increase in overnight rentals and bed and breakfast establishments, the town could reap the benefits of more income from lodging-related tax revenue, according to many estimates.

Bratton said the planning commission doesn’t have a figure in mind for how much this fund would generate. But he reiterated that local business operators want these funds to be used for a special purpose. Lodging fees have been eyed by tourist leaders in the region as a source for extra promotional efforts. In a recent presentation before the Cripple Creek City Council, representatives of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade outlined an ambitious regional effort to generate more funds for promoting tourism. Part of this plan would include an increase in lodging levies and in assessing user fees on attractions.

Krob informed the board that he wanted to research this issue in more detail to determine when a vote on a lodging tax hike could occur, if the measure appears as future ballot issue.

No Fee Waivers
He also asked for more time to research the impacts of two other proposals made by the planning commission. These involve waiving the bond and engineering review fees and requirements for the remodeling and construction efforts associated with a new station for the Green Mountain Falls/Chipita Park Fire District. The new station would be located in a section of the current Joyland Church facility, adjacent to the new town hall, and would involve much remodeling work. However, it wouldn’t involve the construction of a new building. The current fire station on Ute Pass Avenue has encountered problems with its location in a flood plan zone and its outdated status.

Representatives of the fire district stated that the district doesn’t have the funds to meet the town’s bond and land use requirements. They also touted the project as a real local benefit to the citizens of GMF.

However, their request got a less than favorable response from Krob. He stated that these bond and engineering requirements protect towns from the best-intended development projects that don’t get completed, or that aren’t built according to acceptable standards. “I would advise against this (waving the bond requirements),” said Krob. Instead, the attorney wanted to pursue another alternative with the fire district.

This request for waiving payments also was criticized by former trustee Mac Pitrone. “There is no reason that the town should foot the bill,” said Pitrone.

The issue with the fire station construction bonds was delayed until Feb. 16.