Bed tax aimed at marketing, transit |

Bed tax aimed at marketing, transit

Janet Urquhart

What impact an extra $5 tacked onto a $500 hotel bill would have is at the heart of what little debate can be generated over the 1-percent bed tax Aspen is asking voters to approve next month.

The Visitor Benefit Tax, also called a bed tax, is expected to generate roughly $1 million a year – $500,000 Aspen will put toward expanded regional mass transit and $500,000 to fund a cohesive marketing effort for the resort.

At a forum last night on the ballot issue, Referendum 2A, even the opposition voiced support for better transit and an improved marketing effort. But Ralph Melville, co-owner of the Mountain Chalet, pondered the consequences of making Aspen an even more expensive place to stay.

“We’re kind of noted as the most expensive area to come to in the country,” he said. “We’re doing something else that is making that reputation worse.”

Aspen battles that perception continually, conceded Bill Tomcich, president of Aspen Central Reservations. But better marketing of the resort is necessary in the face of declining tourist visits over the past four years, he said.

“We need to do all we can to start recovering from that downward spiral,” he said. “We are failing to compete effectively against other resorts that have far deeper marketing funds.”

If the bed tax and a proposed 0.5-percent sales tax for open space in the city win voter approval, the overall tax a visitor pays for lodging in Aspen will be 9.6 percent, up from the current 8.2 percent, Tomcich said.

“That will be the lowest of any ski resort community in the state of Colorado still,” he said. “Our taxes on lodging are about the least expensive of any place I can find.”

Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards defended the pairing of mass transit and marketing with the tax proceeds. The work force that serves Aspen’s visitors needs better transit service, she reasoned.

Even if a proposed valleywide rural transit authority fails at the polls, Aspen can use the extra transit dollars to ease a projected deficit in funding necessary to maintain the existing bus system, she said. The RTA would create a regional funding source for transit.

And, Richards pointed out, Aspenites probably wouldn’t support an additional sales tax or a property tax that would go in part to a marketing effort.

“I don’t think you’d get residents of Aspen to support marketing with a tax they pay on a gallon of milk,” she said.

The strategy of directing a tax toward individuals who won’t vote on it wasn’t lost on Melville, who called for a fairer method of taxation.

“We’re going to vote on taxing someone else. . I think that’s wrong,” he said.

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