County eyes TRT from campers

Officials: Impacts taking toll on resources, budgets

The Big Bend Campground hosts dozens of the Bureau of Land Management’s 600 campsites in its Canyon Country District. Grand County officials are looking into adding a Transition Room Tax to the $20 daily cost to camp.
Photo by Doug McMurdo

It cost $20 a day to stay in one of the hundreds of campsites on public lands in Grand County. Grand County Council Member Mary McGann and other public officials want to increase that cost by 4%, or 80 cents, in the form of a Transient Room Tax to help mitigate the impacts all those campers have on the county’s solid waste district, emergency medical services, law enforcement and search and rescue operations.

The road to success, said McGann, is littered with bureaucratic obstacles, but she’s undaunted. “The uphill climb is that this has never been done,” she said in an interview Friday, May 10. “There’s no precedent to argue our case … somebody has to start it. Why not us?”

The Bureau of Land Management’s Canyon Country District brought in about $1.5 million in camping fees in 2018. Four percent of that would have dropped $60,000 into the county’s TRT fund, 52 percent that would go to county coffers and the remainder to the Travel Council, per state law.

“That $1.5 million is just the BLM,” said McGann. “That doesn’t include USFS and Arches and Canyonlands.” She pointed out the program would not cost the federal or state governments any revenue. “They are causing impacts. We have no revenue to help deal with those impacts.”

This sign at Big Bend is indicative of the heavy use of Moab area campgrounds on public lands.
Photo by Sena Hauer

While taxes are not levied on campers at federal campgrounds, commercial campgrounds charge the same 4.5 percent TRT as hotels and other overnight lodging outlets.

McGann said the easier route might be getting the tax approved at the Sand Flats Recreation Area, where Grand County and the BLM have an interlocal management agreement. “There is precedence with charging taxes there,” said McGann.

For her, the “best course” would be to work with lawmakers at the state and federal levels. Creating a new revenue stream for local governments could “lower angst” over wanting to take federal lands in the state. To that end, she has reached out to U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. John Curtis.

A representative for Curtis told the council when they met May 7 that getting the tax approved is “a steep ask.” Despite the less-than-positive response, McGann is taking a

what-have-we-got-to-lose approach. “If we have to put together a delegation and go to Washington, D.C., when Congress is in session, we will. Whatever we have to do we will do. It’s not going to happen unless we make the effort to make it happen.”

McGann also believes Grand County residents would likely support the tax because regardless of where the money comes from, the impacts campers have on county resources will have to be addressed financially one way or another. “It would be great not to have to raise property taxes if we get more help,” she said.