Tourism board wants to sway opinion of tax
By Benjamin Graham, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: December 21, 2012
Tourism officials are launching a new public relations campaign to persuade Jackson Hole voters to renew the lodging tax in 2014.
Along with designing a special logo — “4JH” — members of the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Joint Powers Board launched a website this week to boost public opinion about the tax.
The site aims to educate residents about how tax funds are spent. It includes a breakdown of the county’s share of tax money, but doesn’t yet explain how much the board has spent on projects and events.
“There are a lot of misconceptions on the lodging tax,” board member Aaron Pruzan said Wednesday at a workshop attended by the board and town and county officials. “This is really important. I would venture to say the majority of the community doesn’t know how the money can be spent.”
Town and county leaders and the tourism board are devising ways to inform the public about the tax and how its revenue is used, hoping that voters will approve it again at the ballot box in two years.
Teton County used $5,300 to fund the development of an informational brochure and the “4JH” logo, which will appear on services and events supported by the tax — including START shuttles, pathways and public restrooms.
The Travel and Tourism Board, which is supposed to spend its share of the tax dollars promoting Jackson Hole tourism, used $6,500 on the website.
Board members believe that many Jackson Hole residents don’t understand how the lodging tax works. Others worry that the public simply dismisses the tax without studying what it does.
“Some people just don’t like the word ‘tax,’ ” board chairman Stephen Price said Wednesday. “They don’t dig deeper. If you’re living here, you don’t pay it.”
Voters approved the tax in 2010, tacking a 2 percent surcharge onto hotel rooms and generating about $3.4 million a year. Nearly two-thirds of the revenue collected — 60 percent — promotes tourism. The remaining money goes to the town and county — 30 percent to address visitor services and 10 percent to the county’s general fund. The tax originally was imposed from 1986 to 1994. Voters rejected the levy in 1994, 1996 and 1998.
“We’re at least educating the people so that when they make their decision at the polls, they’re doing it in a little more educated fashion, rather than emotional,” Price said.
“We fell down in years past by not explaining the benefits.”
By posting the new logo around town, board members hope to link a bus ride to Teton Village or a clean restroom to the tax, County Commission Chairman Ben Ellis said.
In 2012, $150,000 of the lodging tax went to START’s operating budget and $66,000 was used to add new bus routes. The public should know about that, board members said.
“It’s this funny mix where if it’s too outside the valley, we’re going to lose the opportunity to do it again,” Ellis said.
Leaders say the tax has been crucial to the town and county’s budgets.
“That money is not chump change for local government services,” Mayor Mark Barron said. “The bulk of the money that’s coming out of this lodging tax is going into the community, and it really makes a difference.”