Summit County Leaders Want To Use State-restricted Tourism Money For COVID-19 Response
Transient room tax, or TRT, revenue comes from lodging sales taxes, and state law heavily restricts its uses. Summit County Manager Tom Fisher estimates the county has $11 million in TRT funding this year. The Park City Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau receives 70% of that total to use for marketing Summit County, while the county government receives 30% for items like the county fair, the history department and other tourism-related projects proposed by the community.
Given COVID-19’s impacts to the county’s resort and hospitality-based economy, Fisher says the county council wants Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to give it more flexibility to fill any gaps left after Congress’ stimulus package and state funding comes into play.
“As that sorts out, if we could also get an answer on these hospitality taxes,” Fisher said, “then we can judge amongst all those things that are happening at the federal, state and what our flexibility is within the local level how we want to parse that and where our community needs to be looking at specifically for Summit County, because we have specific needs, given our economy.”
The Park City Chamber’s primary responsibility is to market and bring business to Summit County. So, does the chamber support asking the governor to change the way the county uses TRT funds? Park City Chamber CEO Bill Malone says, "Yes, we do.”
The Park City Chamber is leading an economic recovery task force for Summit County and Park City, with input from other local industry representatives. Malone says the chamber has been in conversations with Summit County on the TRT issue.
“Obviously, we need to use whatever resources we can find that are appropriate to help businesses stay in business,” Malone said. “We’re not going to have anything to market if there are no businesses.”
For the time being, the chamber has shifted from its role in marketing the area due to business restrictions and Summit County’s stay-at-home order, which asks visitors not to come to Summit County to recreate and vacation. But when the tourism economy picks back up again, Malone says the chamber will need to work hard to get the word out. The state just released an economic recovery plan that predicts the hardest-hit businesses will resume normal operations by the start of the holiday season at the latest.
“We do need to make sure that we have the adequate resources available when it comes time to market, that we can come out of the gate pretty fast and get customers back here,” Malone said. “It takes those dollars to do that.”
Park City Municipal has its own 1% local transient room tax – and those revenues are unrestricted in use. But Park City Economic Development Manager Jonathan Weidenhamer says, when the city council approved that tax in 2017, it had a very clear purpose.
“That very much was set up to create redevelopment, expand the tourism base, expand the lodging base, but also expand our arts and culture offerings in town,” Weidenhamer said. “Really be the next step in a future economy that was based in locally based art, things that people and residents in town have said is a strong priority for them and their quality of life.”
Malone, Fisher and Weidenhamer agree the chamber, county and city need to collaborate to support the community, though the specifics of what that looks like in terms of rent relief or otherwise supporting local business is unclear. But Malone remains optimistic, saying local businesses have weathered stops and starts in the economy, from the silver mining boom to Park City’s present status as a world-class destination.
“While it looks a little dark at times when we go into those conversations, I just have so much confidence in people who live here, that they’ll do the right things and they’ll persevere,” Malone said.
Due to the state of emergency, the governor can temporarily suspend the revenue use provisions through executive order. To permanently alter TRT uses, the county would likely need to lobby for amendments by the full legislature.