Lodging Tax Exploration Task Force Update
Charged with analyzing an appropriate funding source to address the serious workforce housing and childcare challenges in the Estes Valley, Visit Estes Park’s Lodging Tax Exploration Task Force met for the sixth time on Wednesday. In a condensed sprint where the members have dedicated two hours of their day every week for six weeks, the group of esteemed community members addressed their final topic before their report is published: What level of programmatic detail is needed to justify a proposed lodging tax increase to the voters?
While the lodging tax would be paid by visitors and not locals, the topic has generated lively discussions and a variety of opinions over the course of the meetings. Several members expressed concern that before a ballot measure can be implemented, there needs to be the development of a robust plan on how the money would be distributed to maximize the greatest assistance to community members in need of housing and childcare. Some members think that more time is needed to flesh out details, and while the majority does recommend raising the lodging tax to address housing and childcare, they think that doing so in the November 2022 election is too soon. Many are recommending a November 2023 ballot initiative in order to allow more time to decide which government entity will take the lead, flesh out the structure, create detailed disbursement plans, and put together a public relations plan to educate the voters. While timing is outside the scope of the Task Force, their recommendations will be included in the final report.
David Batey prepared a document including recommended next steps for the boards of Visit Estes Park, Town of Estes Park, and Larimer County to consider and made a motion, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Task Force, to urge the governmental entities charged with developing the structure for the governance, management, and disbursement of funds to develop a transparent and accountable process and to clearly communicate the structure to the voters. He also recommended creating a community working group to continue to advise the government entities on this matter.
Elaborating on some of the remaining issues, Eric Blackhurst, Chair of the Board of the Estes Park Housing Authority, gave a presentation on the history of the Housing Authority and the work the agency is currently doing to manage and develop housing and the new project at PeakView. Blackhurst also reviewed the homebuyer assistance program funded by the Board of Realtors and administered by the Housing Authority.
Laurie Dale Marshall, Executive Director of EVICS Family Resource Center, discussed childcare needs and the possible means of mitigating those needs with funding provided by a lodging tax increase. Dale Marshall also gave an example of the funding shortfalls experienced by childcare programs in the Estes Valley and provided projected numbers of what it would take to reopen Bennett at the YMCA.
Kara Franker, CEO of Visit Estes Park, thanked all of the members for their time and dedication to such an important issue for the community. VEP staff is putting together a report from each of the meetings, as well as one-on-one community interviews they’ve conducted. They are working on scheduling a time for the Task Force to address the boards of each of the governmental entities with their recommendations. Additionally, Franker said that they would continue to rely on the expertise and knowledge of the Task Force members going forward, as the boards of Visit Estes Park, Town of Estes Park, and Larimer County consider whether to move forward with a ballot initiative.
Recordings of the meetings of the task force are available on the Visit Estes Park website: https://www.visitestespark.com/partners/about-visit-estes-park/board/lodging-tax-extension-task-force/.