Basalt divorces tax plan from tourism | AspenTimes.com

Basalt divorces tax plan from tourism

Tourism has become a dirty word in Basalt. The Basalt Town Council decided Tuesday night that a proposed lodging tax probably wouldn’t earn voter approval in November if revenues were used to promote tourism.

As originally proposed earlier this summer, the revenues raised by a 2 percent tax on lodging rooms in Basalt was supposed to be evenly split between promoting tourism and acquiring and maintaining trails and parks.

But as the deadline approached this week to finalize ballot-question wording, the council got cold feet about the tourism promotion.

“There are people that are sensitive to tourism and turning Basalt into a tourist trap,” said Mayor Rick Stevens.

Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt agreed that some voters would have an “adverse reaction” to the original wording of the ballot question – enough that they might vote against it.

So council members put on their thinking caps, sharpened their pencils and changed the language in the ballot question to read that revenues would be used for “supporting the Basalt Chamber of Commerce” rather than for “promoting tourism.”

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While the wording was easy enough to change, there’s no guarantee the actual use of the funds will be altered. The Basalt Chamber of Commerce could still use the funds to promote tourism.

Nevertheless, council members felt it was an important – and honest – distinction to make. Whitsitt, who proposed the wording change, explained the distinction between “promoting tourism” and “supporting the chamber of commerce” after the meeting.

The chamber, she noted, undertakes efforts that are designed to increase business for its members but not necessarily increase tourism. There are directories, for example, that help guide locals to Basalt businesses.

Stevens said the change in ballot wording wasn’t merely semantics. He

conceded the chamber could use the revenues from the lodging tax on something like an advertising campaign aimed at Denver or Los Angeles. That could be considered an effort to boost tourism, he said.

But Stevens stressed that the intent of the council was to allow use of the revenues in ways that benefit businesses, and therefore the community, without necessarily increasing tourism.

Besides, Stevens noted, the proposed lodging tax would raise only an estimated $12,000 annually since there are only two motels and one bed and breakfast currently operating. That would generate only $6,000 annually for the chamber.

The Town Council gained the authority to propose a variety of new taxes when voters approved turning the town into a home-rule style of government last year. Previously, as a statutory government, the town’s actions were dictated by the state government.

This is the first new tax the council is pursuing as a home-rule entity.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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