Under fire, S’mass council asks new board for help | AspenTimes.com

Under fire, S’mass council asks new board for help

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Snowmass Village Town Council has a public relations problem on its hands.

So on Monday night, it decided to ask its new marketing, public relations and special events board to see if it can turn the problem into an opportunity.

Ironically, the PR issue on the table has been created by a new sales tax designed to fund the new marketing and PR board.

Now one of the board’s first challenges is to smooth over the feathers that have been ruffled by its very creation.

When voters approved a new townwide 2.5 percent sales tax in November for marketing and PR for the resort, they also agreed the tax would go into effect on Dec. 1.

But one overlooked aspect of the timing of the new tax is that a number of visitors planning winter vacations in Snowmass Village had already paid their condo and house rental bills by Dec. 1.

Those visitors now think that their Snowmass vacation, at least the lodging portion, is already paid in full.

But technically, tax on rental properties is due at the time of occupancy. So some guests will soon be presented, or are already hearing news of, an additional tax bill that is due on their winter rental.

For a guest who has paid $30,000 for a 10-day rental of a luxury house, that could mean an additional $750 is due.

“Most of them can afford this tax,” said Rick Griffin of Snowmass Real Estate about his rental clients.

But few customers enjoy finding out they owe more money for something they thought was already paid for.

“It is a PR problem,” Wayne Floyd, the general manager of the ski-in, ski-out Woodrun V condos, told the Town Council on Monday night. “We’ve got an image problem.”

Barbara Lucks, who also works at Woodrun V, told the council about a recent party she attended. A disgruntled United customer walked in and announced to the 25 people there that he would never fly United Airlines again after they charged him more at the gate for a cheap ticket he had previously purchased.

And Lucks said that visitors to Snowmass would spread negative messages about having to pay an unexpected sales tax.

The Town Council has already recognized that the situation could potentially alienate some visitors to Snowmass. Last week it approved sending out $25 gift certificates from Snowmass businesses and a letter explaining the town’s position to those guests who may be getting the additional tax bill.

But Floyd didn’t think that would be enough to placate his customers.

“The only fair and just thing to do … is not charge them the added tax,” he said.

But during Monday’s discussion, several council members said in unison, “We are not going to waive this tax.”

In the wake of the November election, the additional tax due is 2.5 percent more on a lodge or house outside of the original West Village area near the mall.

Inside the West Village area, where 80 percent of the resort’s condos and lodge rooms are located, the additional tax is .9 percent higher than last winter. That increase stems from a decision by the members of the Snowmass Village Resort Association to raise the civic assessment due on the rental of their condos.

Councilmen Doug Mercatoris and Dick Virtue said the issue should now go to the marketing, PR and special events committee to determine if more needs to be done to placate potentially annoyed guests.

“For every dark spot, there is a chance for a bright light to shine,” said Virtue, who called the PR “problem” an “opportunity.”

Ivan Perrin, of First Choice Properties in Snowmass Village, told the council he had prepared an estimate of how much it would cost to reimburse every visitor caught by the new tax.

Perrin gave his analysis to Bob Purvis, the chairman of the marketing and PR board, but declined to discuss his analysis any further until Thursday, when the board next meets. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m.

Purvis said that from what he could tell from his earlier research into the issue, the amount likely to be owed by visitors who had paid in full for their winter rentals by Dec. 1 would be under $200,000.

But it is not clear if the marketing board will view simply sending checks out to visitors to offset the new tax bills as something that makes sense to do. The board has only had one meeting since it was created and has yet to draw up its bylaws.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]

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