Voters asked to consider lodging tax increase

By Sarah Pridgeon

Voters have supported a two percent lodging tax in Crook County since 1989 but, this year, will be asked to consider increasing that amount to four percent. The Crook County Tourism Promotion Board, which administers the proceeds, urges the community to vote for a tax that residents don’t pay.

Representative Tyler Lindholm, however, feels it’s not fair on visitors who had no choice in whether the tax was assessed – particularly when Crook County opted not to tax itself to pay for conservation activities just a couple of months ago.

“The lodging tax is a tax paid by travelers staying in our lodging facilities, not by county residents,” explains Steve Lenz, chair of the Crook County Tourism Promotion Board, in a press release supporting the lodging tax.

“Crook County currently has a two percent lodging tax. It is collected by the lodging establishments and paid to the state each month along with the sales tax collected.”

The State of Wyoming retains one percent of the tax to cover their administrative costs, while the remaining funds are returned to the Crook County Treasurer and passed on to the promotion board. In support of the tax, Lenz points out that it is collected at a lower rate than in many other places.

“Most states have a lodging tax of six to ten percent. Each county in Wyoming has a lodging tax ranging from two to four percent and about half of Wyoming counties are already at four percent,” he says.

The promotion board uses lodging tax proceeds to purchase advertising that encourages the half million people who visit Devils Tower National Monument each year to stay in Crook County. These ads appear in such places as Wyoming’s Official Travelers Journal and with the Black Hills and Badlands Association, as well as on billboards along I-90.

“The Promotion Board also uses that money to advertise events and attractions, promoting overnight stays in the county,” Lenz says.

The board also created a guided audible tour with TravelStorysGPS in 2016, allowing visitors to download an app to listen to local history, and maintains a website at DevilsTowerCountry.com. If the four percent tax is approved, half will continue to be used for such promotion projects.

“The Promotion Board will still use the first two percent to promote the county collectively and the additional two percent will be designated where the tax was generated,” says Lenz.

“This will give our small communities and county lodging industries an additional revenue stream to help promote their events and attractions, and bolster tourism across the county.”

Lodging tax proceeds are already being invested in local communities, such to advertise Winterfest in Sundance; to fund Moorcroft Jubilee and billboards along I-90 to attract visitors to the Moorcroft community; to assist with the annual Hulett visitors guide and advertise the UFO Rendezvous; and to publicize the fireworks displays at Devils Tower and Pine Haven.

 

Standing opposed

However, says Representative Lindholm, voters should be aware that this tax is not so simple as it seems. Whether or not to support it is an interesting question, he says, especially considering that the community did not support a mil levy request from Crook County Natural Resource District (CCNRD) at the primary election.

“Regardless of whether you support either one, it needs to be understood what the successful passage represents of each one. The Conservation District asked for one mil on property taxation based on the ideology that they could utilize those funds to better fund grant application requirements,” he begins.

“The Lodging Tax funds collected will be utilized to advertise local attractions and businesses. Granted, both groups do far more than that, but for the sake of the argument that is their essential role.”

The big difference between the two ballot propositions, says Lindholm, is that the Conservation District asked the residents benefiting from their efforts to pay for part of those efforts.

“Whereas, the lodging tax is openly advertised as making others pay for the benefits you receive from the efforts of the board expending the funds,” he says.

“Let’s be clear on this, you will not pay for this tax unless you utilize our local lodging. We are only going to tax those that never have had a choice in their tax being assessed.”

Though he feels that the lodging tax could be considered an example of taxation without representation, Lindholm acknowledges that the idea of supporting this tax can be seductive.

“It’s an incredibly easy tax to support, you never pay, but it should be considered that we as a county rejected paying for our own services two months ago,” he says.

“With that being the case, I cannot support a lodging tax. I should also note that I absolutely support both groups that utilize these funds, because I believe they have been very good stewards of public funds and this is not meant to disparage them in any