Aspen lodges want increased tax for marketing

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” It’s been only a week since Aspen had an election, but officials already are considering a November ballot question that seeks to increase the lodging tax to 1.5 percent, raising an additional $1 million to market the resort.

Aspen Chamber Resort Association representatives got the approval from the City Council on Tuesday to move forward with their plans to create a Local Marketing District for the sole purpose of increasing marketing and sales funds. Members of the Aspen Lodging Association also are behind the effort.

Aspen currently has a .5 percent lodging tax dedicated to summer marketing. It raises about $600,000 annually. Unlike winter marketing that is funded primarily by the Aspen Skiing Co., there is no significant resource established to market the summer other than the existing lodging tax, chamber officials said.

ACRA officials already have done some research in defining the boundaries of a district and who would be included it. Only registered voters who live within the defined boundary would vote on the establishment of the district ” not Aspen’s entire electorate.

ACRA board member Warren Klug said the district would include downtown lodges and property management offices, plus other areas of lodging operations such as the Gant, the Inn at Aspen, the Aspen Meadows and the Lift One area. He added that the areas don’t have to be contiguous.

A petition must be brought to the council asking it to place a question proposing the district on the ballot. That petition must be signed by owners of 50 percent of the commercial properties within the proposed boundaries as determined by property valuations, Klug said.

“Because this is a proposal for room taxes only, no property taxes, and because the goal is improving business for everyone, we believe it will not be difficult to achieve the 50 percent requirement,” Klug wrote in a proposal to the council. “This is not a vote of everyone in Aspen.

“The number of voters should be small, and the required campaign to secure a positive vote should be limited,” Klug continued. “Because this is a tax that does not cost locals anything, and as everyone recognizes that business is tougher now, we fully expect a positive vote.”

Mayor Mick Ireland and Councilman Jack Johnson said the council will, in the future, need to consider whether all registered voters should be able to vote on the district because, while it doesn’t cost them directly, raising the lodging tax can have an effect on the entire community.

“I represent citizens, and I don’t agree that only a handful of people vote for something and the rest of us have to pay,” Johnson said.

Increasing the tax by 1 percent also can affect the sales tax rate in terms of the perception by tourists on how expensive it is to visit here, Ireland noted.

The council agreed that resources within City Hall can help do the research on a possible Local Marketing District, such as mapping and identifying the parcels that would be included in it.

Klug said time is of the essence, as getting a district established this year will raise money for next summer’s marketing campaign.

“We all know we need more marketing dollars,” he told the council.

By state law, there would be a district board to oversee the use of the funds generated by the district. It’s anticipated that the money will be used by ACRA Destination Marketing to augment its current efforts and its $600,000 budget.