Officials representing Teton County’s lodging tax said they couldn’t name a single downside to its continuation, and that it had no effect on exacerbating the valley’s traffic or housing problems.
Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board Chairwoman Ponteir Sackrey, Travel and Tourism Board coordinator Kate Sollitt and Jackson Town Manager Bob McLaurin made their comments Thursday evening at a forum meant to help voters prepare for the Nov. 4 general election.
All three were asked early during the two-hour forum if they could name a drawback to the lodging tax.
“I can’t think of one,” McLaurin said.
“I can’t think of one, actually,” Sollitt echoed.
Sackrey chose not to answer.
The lodging tax is a 2 percent tax on overnight stays in any Teton County lodging facility. It raises $4.5 million a year, 60 percent of which is used to market Jackson Hole. Another 30 percent is used to offset impacts caused by tourists, helping to pay for pathways, transit, public restrooms and other such costs. The remaining 10 percent goes into town and county general funds to be used as officials see fit.
A housing study released earlier this week stated that further promoting tourism will likely exacerbate the county’s housing shortage, but the officials denied this was the case.
Also, as part of a transportation plan commissioned by the county and currently being written, its author found that 60 percent of summer traffic is from out of town.
Asked for evidence that the lodging tax does not contribute to the county’s traffic woes by bringing more tourists into the valley, no official offered any.
Sollitt said traffic cannot be controlled in the summer. She said summer traffic has been a problem for as long as she has lived here. Moreover, the lodging tax isn’t used to promote tourism in the summer, when traffic is worst, she said. Neither does it contribute to traffic in the offseasons or winter, the seasons the tax is used to market, Sollitt said.
“Does [the tax] affect the traffic during the shoulder season or the winter? I don’t think so,” she said.
Traffic problems in the county exist mainly because of population growth and the areas where that growth is occurring, McLaurin said.
Because the population continues to grow, he said, “I think we’re going to have continued traffic growth regardless of this tax.”
Sackrey opted not to respond.
The bed tax also has no effect on the county’s housing struggles, Sollitt said.
The worst housing problems coincide with the arrival of the greatest number of tourists, and the problem can’t be helped, Sollitt said.
Numerous studies have shown that the hospitality industry pays workers the lowest wages of any in the county. A recent housing study by consultant Melanie Rees, of Crested Butte, Colorado, drew the same conclusion. Low-wage workers in particular struggle to find housing, studies have also shown.
As a result, the most recent housing study’s author said that further promoting tourism could worsen Teton County’s housing shortage.
Despite the apparent correlation between tourism and the housing shortages, Sollitt said increased tourism throughout the year won’t have any effect on housing availability.
Sackrey and McLaurin chose not to answer the question.
The forum was held at Teton County Library and was sponsored by the Jackson Hole News&Guide, Teton County League of Women Voters and the library. Three more election forums are scheduled to take place at the library Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 6:30 p.m.