Green Mountain Falls may join lodging tax caravan Rick Langenberg

download (2)

Move over Cripple Creek, Colorado Springs and other communities desiring to rev up their promotional engines by assessing extra nightly fees for visitors and tourists.

Green Mountain Falls could become the newest entry in the race for more lodging tax revenue.

However, the push for an additional 2 percent tax, a proposition that would be decided by the voters in GMF, is not a done deal.

During last week’s board of trustees meeting, the elected leaders held a workshop on the issue and heard a variety of opinions. In order to garner a spot on the November ballot, the elected leaders must make a decision within the next few weeks.

Several civic leaders touted the possible additional tax (the current levy is 2 percent) as a win/win for the town and business community, as it would not be paid by residents. But some current lodging and property management owners/operators disagreed and maintained that this would put GMF, which features many short-term summer rental and vacation properties, at a competitive disadvantage. Others, meanwhile, questioned the feasibility of the tax for the November election.

Planning Commission member and former mayor Dick Bratton described the possible tax as a good way for the town to generate extra money. He also spoke in favor of using the extra revenue for additional promotion and tourism efforts for lodging and short-term rental property owners.

“It would be an investment for them,” said Bratton, in describing one possible compromise. This idea would call for using the extra funds for increasing tourism activity in Green Mountain Falls through advertising and better Internet visibility on the town’s website and enhanced signage.

Bratton also reminded the trustees of the financial realities they face with extra expenses and a flattening revenue stream. He cited statistics that indicated that the lodging levy proposed in GMF isn’t out of line, compared to what is assessed in other cities in the region. He also mentioned proposed lodging issues being considered in Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs.

But Trustee David Pearlman, a local property manager of lodging properties, expressed much skepticism of the probable success rate of such a proposition. “Whenever people see the word ‘tax,’ they will vote no,” said Pearlman. He didn’t believe the lodging levy faced much chance of getting approved by the voters.

Instead, he recommended that more effort be placed on collecting the current 2 percent levy on nightly room bills. According to Pearlman, many owners/operators of short-term rental units aren’t assessing these fees.

However, long-time resident Mac Pitrone contends that an additional lodging tax could work, if it is marketed to the voters properly. Compared to many communities in the area, Pitrone stated that GMF has done quite well with tax and spending measures, when the specific benefits are highlighted. “We have had extraordinary good luck in selling tax measures to the voters,” said Pitrone. “We have been honest with them.”

Like Bratton, he sees the proposed lodging tax as a good way to generate more money for needed improvements. He doesn’t believe that visitors planning a trip to the area make a final decision based on the lodging levy in the community. Plus, he sees the benefits of this additional pot for needed improvements, such as parks

Pitrone also cited a boom in out-of-town folks looking for homes to occupy or even purchase. According to the former trustee, the town has experienced an increase in families who want to use properties for reunions and extended gatherings.

A Bad Gamble for GMF

But property owner Lisa Huizenga, who owns several short-term rental homes, staunchly disagreed with the benefits of this tax. In fact, she described the levy as a big gamble for the town and for local business owners. “I don’t think it would help,” said Huizenga. “It is risky.”

Moreover, she acknowledges that the town needs park improvements and other enhancements, but that lodging and short-term rental-unit owners are being asked to shoulder this responsibility. The property owner contends that the extra prices, with the additional tax, could drive guests to such locales as Chipita Park, Cascade and other parts of Teller County.

Other concerns with the levy dealt with the timing of the issue. Kathryn Guthrie, who recently served as an interim trustee, stated that town leaders may face a perception problem with the proposed levy due to the way money was spent in the past. “I am just wandering about the timing,” said Guthrie.

Mayor Jane Newberry, meanwhile, questioned if the money could be allocated for promotional purposes. This emerged as a big issue, when a lodging levy was discussed in Cripple Creek.

“Advertising is a slippery slope,” said mayor. She said that the chamber of commerce would be a better vehicle for lodging owners and vacation rental operators to achieve more visibility.

During its next meeting, slated for July 19, the board is slated to make a final decision regarding the possibility of putting the issue on the November ballot. It doesn’t have to finalize the specific ballot language until September.

If the board agrees to pursue a ballot measure for an additional lodging tax, the issue would appear on the election slate for both El Paso and Teller counties.