Dear State Auditor Walker,
I am reaching out to you on behalf of our local Grand County Travel Advisory Board as well as all of Grand County’s residents/property tax payers. As the chair I have been looking closely at the state codes regarding the spending of these related taxes and I would like you to address a few issues and questions regarding the taxes and their allocations. Our county is preparing its 2019 budgets and our board would like information which would pertain to usage of these taxes.
(1) Under 17-31-5.5, subsection 2(a)(ii)(E) states funding can be allocated to “related facilities”. Grand County is a class 5 county where 96 percent of the land is under federal control, mainly by the Department of the Interior. The portion of land available for realistic development for everything else sits between the Colorado River and San Juan County, just a few square miles of land. The whole basis of our local economy depends on tourism, and the infrastructure for accommodating visitors has grown considerably. Parallel to this has been the complete lack of available housing for essential service job workers. This accommodation growth has created a huge demand for employees who service these visitors, initially with overnight lodging/camping, and then with all of the restaurants, guide services, gift shops etc.
Other communities in rural Colorado tourist towns/counties created assured housing programs funded principally from developers back in the late 1970s (Aspen/Pitkin County, Colo.). There are no mechanisms in local codes currently for assured housing. We are in very short supply of these essential individuals who are the main collection point for all of the tourism taxes collected. With this in mind, can a portion of tourist taxes be used to help fund affordable housing for qualified individuals who provide this service? This allocated funding would help obtain matching funds from the city, state etc., to make this happen in the form of land trusts, employee housing developments and the administrative-related structures.
(2) How can our county request that the federal land agencies within our county collect local taxes on the hundreds of fee-based of campsites in our county? They are not exempt from this collection and our county needs them for mitigation costs of these visitors. State parks do collect local sales and transient room taxes on campsites and admission fees.
(3) How can our county be reimbursed for sheriff-related services into public lands? It is my understanding that these land agencies are required to provide their own enforcement and if not, because of insufficient funding from Congress, they should fully reimburse our county for any costs associated with responding to calls from these federally controlled lands.
(4) Under the current laws, if the county does not spend a legally required minimum amount on promotion/marketing, and there is a downturn in business, would the county open itself up to lawsuits from the private sector who could argue that the decreased spending in this mandated amount was in some way responsible for any down turn in their business?
I am sorry I was unable to meet you in person to ask these questions while you were in Moab. Each of them pertains to questions every rural county in Utah that is working on developing tourism as a viable, sustainable and successful tourism economy should be asking.
I look forward to you clarifying these matters for our community.
Chair, Moab Area Travel Council
/Tax Advisory Board