TRT increase narrowly appoved by county council
by Charli Engelhorn
staff writer
May 03, 2012 | 2852 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Despite weeks of debate by the Grand County Council and a number of letters objecting to a proposed increase to the transient room tax in Grand County, council members passed the measure by a 4-3 vote this week. The TRT rate – taxes charged for motel and other lodging rentals – will increase from 3 percent to 4.25 percent.

Council members Chris Baird, Chris Conrad, Audrey Graham, and Pat Holyoak all voted to approve the increase after hearing further discussion on the issue from Baird during the meeting. Council members Jim Nyland, Ken Ballantyne, and Gene Ciarus opposed the increase.

Baird, who spearheaded the proposal to increase the TRT, again stressed his belief that the increase would be beneficial to the county. Baird had previously said the higher tax rate would add $728,000 to the county’s revenue. He also said it would help relieve the burden on local property owners, who currently pay most of the cost for county services for area residents and the 2 million visitors to the county each year. Grand County only has 5 percent of land that is taxable to create revenue for the county’s general fund.

“There are a lot of financial needs the county is moving toward. That’s probably the most pressing reason I proposed this…,” Baird said. “The second reason is the principle of how much the citizens of Grand County are willing to subsidize services to non-residents... I think this makes the distribution of the financial burden of providing services to non-residents more equitable.”

Baird said that in three to four years, the county might see their fund balances drained to the point where they would have to increase property taxes if they did not increase the TRT. Council chairman Ciarus said he didn’t want to see that scenario happen but he believes the TRT increase was not the option.

“I realize we need more funds, but I’m not so sure 1.25 percent is the way to go... Taxation on people is the last thing that anyone wants to do, and it’s the very last thing I want,” Ciarus said. “The cost of coming to Grand County has already gotten excessive... If we keep using our funds and tax the death out of [people], we are not going to have any way... to help build new infrastructure.”

Six area business owners in the lodging industry submitted letters to the county agreeing with Ciarus and expressing their displeasure at the idea of increasing taxes for an already heavily taxed tourist base.

“Moab is an internationally renowned travel, adventure, and recreation destination. We have earned this reputation through hard work and responsible stewardship,” wrote Ron and Dar Regehr, owners of Ron’s Pack Creek Mobile Estates & Campground. “...We are opposed to any increase in transient room tax,” they wrote. “As it is, we receive many complaints every year of ‘gouging’ as a result of the current taxes imposed.”

Many of the other letters echoed that sentiment, saying customers regularly complain about the high tax rate for lodging in Grand County.

Steve Mayne of Accommodations Unlimited in Moab wrote that raising the tax would have a long-term negative impact on the Moab economy and tourism industry. He said tourists are already spending a lot of money to support and sustain local businesses.

“Just because it might seem to be the easiest solution to fix the budget problem doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” Mayne said.

Council member Graham addressed concerns about possible negative impacts on tourism in Grand County.

“We just got the city of Moab sales tax revenues... and the totals are 8 percent higher this year than last year, so clearly we are not suffering locally with the economics that are going on in the rest of the country,” Graham said. “...I’m not taking this at all lightly, but I think it may help for business owners to remind people that this tax helps pay for search and rescue, the roads and trails they use... If those things start to fail, we will probably see the tourism go down.”

Graham also addressed a concern by a local business owner that the county will simply increase the tax again the next time they require more funds.

“I want to make it clear that Grand County cannot do that... This is a state regulation and would take a state law to make it higher than 4.25 percent,” Graham said.

Council member Conrad said he felt the increase would have little affect on the industry.

“I’ve done a fair amount of travel in my life. I have always just considered hotel tax as part of the deal. I have never allowed it to alter my travel plans,” said Conrad. “I think the amount this tax will place on the average traveler is not going to stop them from traveling.”

Two letters of support for the increase came from a visitor to Moab from Indianapolis and Marc Thomas, president of Orchard Villa Homeowners Association.

“A tax that will only raise the average tourist’s bill about $5 over a [three]-night stay here, but generate more than $700,000 in additional revenue for the county? Why haven’t we taken advantage of the maximum rate before now?” Thomas said. “It’s a terrific way to raise more money without requiring local residents to foot the bill.”

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