Mayor Steve Skadron suggests Aspen chamber save, not spend
The Aspen Times
During a briefing on the annual surplus the city’s lodging tax has accumulated for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Mayor Steve Skadron suggested Monday that the destination marketing group look to save rather than spend.
The tax produced about $275,000 over the estimated $2 million budget in 2014, the largest surplus since the tax was increased in 2010, according to Finance Director Don Taylor. On Monday, the chamber got the go-ahead to spend the surplus on various line items, including additional marketing campaigns and staff, but not before Skadron said officials should be sensitive to the principle.
“It gives the appearance of ‘got it, spend it,’ which isn’t something that’s generally tolerated by the tax-paying public,” Skadron said. “This legislation makes me uncomfortable. I would much prefer the money go into reserve … so we have money in place during down cycles.”
Taylor said the original intent of the lodging tax, which was increased from 1 to 2 percent in 2010 by Aspen voters, was not to have large sums of money sitting around. According to chamber President Debbie Braun, the lodging base was against that practice.
“The intent of the funds when the Aspen lodging association really spearheaded this campaign to raise the tax was to spend the money on marketing, not to reserve it for a rainy day,” said Julia Theisen, vice president of sales and marketing for the chamber.
The lodging tax is collected each time a visitor pays for a hotel room in Aspen. It is divided between the chamber and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, with the former receiving 75 percent of the revenue. Braun asked Skadron if it helps that visitors, not residents, foot the bill.
“The principle in general is something we should be sensitive to,” Skadron said.
Taylor advised Skadron that it’s not worth attempting to alter the ballot language at this point, but it might have been worth consideration when the legislation was written in 2010. The council did not provide any formal direction on the matter.
Braun said the Finance Department has recommended that the chamber set aside $125,000 to $150,000 in case of an economic downturn. She added that while she and Skadron probably have a different definition of “reserve,” the chamber has been putting aside money for capital projects, such as software upgrades.
The expenses associated with the surplus also are not set in stone, she said. For instance, the chamber is planning a $25,000 Fourth of July laser show, only in case a dry season prohibits the use of fireworks.
“We agree. We need reserves,” Braun said.
The chamber’s contract associated with the tax is in place through 2017, according to Assistant City Attorney Randy Ready. Any change to the ballot language would require a public vote.
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