Estes Park voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to raise the lodging tax visitors pay at hotels and vacation home rentals to help fund housing and childcare for construction workers. city dependent on tourism.
Approved by the Visit Estes Park business district on Monday, the vote would increase the current lodging tax from 2% to 5.5%, allocating the additional 3.5% – estimated revenue of around $5.25 million – for fund housing and childcare initiatives for the workforce, both identified as pressing needs for businesses in the mountain village at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
The extra percentage would be added to the per-night rate that Estes Park visitors pay to stay in hotels, motels, guest houses and short-term rentals.
VEP will campaign for the increase, said Kara Franker, its executive director, emphasizing to voters in Estes Park that it’s “the tax you don’t pay.” It does not come out of the pockets of the residents, but it benefits them directly.
“We’ve all known for decades that these two issues are critical if we’re all going to continue in business,” said Deborah Gibson, who chairs VEP’s board of directors and has co-owned Rams Horn Village Resort since 1989. “We knew it, we had no way to fix it,” she added, but “an incredible opportunity presented itself to us this spring.”
Passed by the Colorado Legislature and signed March 31 by Gov. Jared Polis, bipartisan Bill 1117 allows counties and local marketing districts that levied voter-approved lodging taxes — previously only permitted to pay for advertising and marketing – to ask voters for extra money to spend on housing and childcare for the tourism workforce or to “enhance the visitor experience” through to things like improving outdoor recreation facilities. Voter approval is required under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, and at least 10% of revenue generated must be spent on marketing and advertising for the tourism industry.
The law will go into effect on August 10, a week from Wednesday, prompting the VEP board to form the Accommodation Tax Exploration Task Force. This group held regular monthly meetings to discuss whether or not to recommend to the VEP, City and County of Larimer that Estes Park voters be asked to approve the raise, what it would be spent on and who would administer it.
The 14 voting members of the task force include two owners of large hotels or motels, two owners of small hotels or motels, two representatives of the vacation rental industry, one owner of a commercial campground, two Workforce Housing Advocates, two Childcare Workforce Advocates, and three general community members.
Monday’s meeting cemented the task force’s decision to recommend that the VEP rush the issue onto the November ballot.
“Not only do we have to do this for logical business purposes, but as a community, we’re losing more and more labor every day,” Gibson said. “Those who remain have a much harder and more expensive life. I am concerned not only about housing, but also about childcare,” she added, due to the number of “key children we have here.”
Franker said the VEP would pass the revenue to Estes Park City Council, which would have the power to determine how it would be spent and what proportion would be allocated to each of the two issues. That plan drew a letter of support from the Estes Park Economic Development Corp., but the lack of specificity in the ballot language troubled Larimer County Commissioner Kristin Stephens.
She asked members of the working group: “Won’t this be something that will be included in the language of the ballot or the campaign for the initiative? Does anyone think that would be a problem with regard to the passage of the electoral measure if people do not have a clear idea of how the money will be spent?
“I think the city can decide better how to spend it. I don’t question any of those kinds of things,” she said. “I’m just wondering if if there isn’t a definitive structure on how the money will be spent, does it feel like that’s discouraging taxpayers from voting for it – or because people in this field know the need is so great that you think it would pass?”
Franker defended the plan, noting that “part of what we found was that housing had been studied much more than childcare.” We don’t want to impose too many conditions on the city, and they don’t want to throw money at things until you have the right procedures and plans in place.
City Administrator Travis Machalek, interviewed after the meeting, described it as “a bit like a street improvement tax – you vote on the tax, but not on the different mechanisms or specific projects. These details do not appear on the ballot. This makes sense because needs evolve and change differently. You don’t want to lock yourself in initially. I think the ability to put that money where it’s needed most is a good idea.
Machalek said he’s thrilled that Colorado resorts now have “new potential to meet long-standing community needs, especially in statutory communities with limited funding streams.”
A needs assessment will be conducted to present more specific recommendations to the city, Franker said, adding that “there is still work to determine what the need is and how best to meet it.”
Both acknowledged that support for raising the tax rate is not unanimous in Estes Park. “There are people who disagree with certain parts for various reasons,” he said.
At a task force meeting in May, Franker said some stakeholders had suggested VEP take the money out of its own budget instead of asking tourists to shell out more at a time of high airfares. gasoline and other inflationary pressures.
“I get heart palpitations when someone mentions touching our current budget,” she said at the time. “When you cut into marketing, there are serious ramifications to that.”
She reignited that concern at Monday’s meeting, reminding the task force that after Colorado in 1993 became the first state to eliminate its tourism marketing function, it only regained its previous market share in 2015.
Several other Colorado counties and resort marketing districts are also considering putting similar measures on the November ballot, and Eagle County — home to Vail and Beaver Creek — has already done so. On June 21, Eagle County Commissioners passed a resolution asking voters to raise a 2% tax on short-term lodging and use 90% of revenue generated through affordable housing and child care. for the tourism workforce. The rest would be for tourism marketing.