There are few issues here in Teton County that bring together Democrats and Republicans, longtime locals and new residents, small-business owners, conservationists and nearly everyone in between.
The lodging tax is one of them. Visitors pay, and our local community benefits with resources to mitigate tourist impacts and funding for emergency services, transportation and pathways, youth sports and many other shared local priorities.
Dubbed “the tax you don’t pay,” the lodging tax is a tax added to a visitor’s stay in any hotel, motel or rental property. Teton County residents voted to instate a 2 percent lodging tax in 2010 and 2014, and now, on Nov. 6, voters will decide again whether to continue with the tax.
Over the past eight years the lodging tax has delivered for Teton County in spades. Last year alone it generated $7.3 million for our community.
Nearly $3 million of that was used for town of Jackson and Teton County services including Fire/EMS, the police department, victim services, START bus, parks and pathways and the Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum.
Over $2.6 million was used to fund community events like the Special Olympics and Eco-Fair as well as sustainability initiatives and four visitor centers around town.
No lodging tax funds are used to support marketing and promotion of our busy summer seasons. Instead, lodging tax revenues are used to support a more stable year-round economy here in Teton County. That means year-round jobs, year-round open businesses and year-round revenues for important government services.
The distribution formula for lodging taxes in Wyoming stipulates that 90 percent of the revenue generated be used for travel and tourism promotion, with only 10 percent going toward town and county funding. There is one exception to this formula in Wyoming, and it’s Teton County.
Thanks to former local state Rep. Clarene Law, who successfully fought for a specific formula to meet the unique needs of Teton County in the late 1990s, only 60 percent of lodging tax funds must be used for promotion, visitor services and community events, while 40 percent can be used to mitigate visitor impacts and to fund local government.
It’s important to note this special exception for Teton County was not easily won. And while many in our community would like to see an even further change in the formula made, failing to renew the lodging tax is not the way to do it.
As a state, Wyoming is facing an unprecedented funding shortfall that’s impacting our schools, our infrastructure and the critical services many citizens rely on.
Failing to implement the lodging tax at a time when towns and counties across the state are feeling the impacts of reduced revenue sends a dangerous message to Cheyenne that Teton County is in a position to turn away nearly $3 million in government funding annually.
If Teton County wants to pursue changes to the lodging tax formula, that is a conversation we need to have as a community and work collectively toward a solution. However, the narrative being circulated that we will be in a stronger negotiating position without the lodging tax in place is false.
As work continues in the Legislature to balance our budget and consider alternate revenue streams, Teton County will be in the strongest position to negotiate on the lodging tax with skin in the game.
No one likes taxes, but worse still is having no solutions in place to help manage the visitors who come to our beautiful valley every year. The lodging tax is a common-sense tool that has helped sustain our town and county budget for several years while funding shared community priorities, including public safety, sustainability and recreation.