Voters Will Decide Lodging Tax Issue

A view of TownePlace Suites by Marriott behind the Welcome To Gillette sign.
A view of TownePlace Suites by Marriott behind the Welcome To Gillette sign.

More tourists are visiting the Cowboy State than usual.

Campbell County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CCCVB) Executive Director Jessica Seders told the Joint Powers Lodging Tax Board Tuesday that the tourism industry is doing better than might be expected given the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Wyoming has a lot to offer a world in which social distancing is a selling point, she noted. People are visiting. But there’s a problem.

“They’re staying in campers, not in hotels,” Seders said.

The latest CCCVB figures show that lodging tax collections are already down $52,295 this fiscal year in comparison to 2019 figures. For the calendar year, collections are $98,612 off last year’s pace.

That’s why former CCCVB Executive Director Mary Silvernell addressed the board in support of the 4% lodging tax initiative that will appear on the ballot in the Campbell County general election this November.

Silvernell retired from the CCCVB at the end of last year and now runs a political action committee in support of the lodging tax. She said there are misconceptions about the initiative.

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“People think tax is a four-letter word,” she said and while she understands the public’s wariness about taxes in general, she stressed that the tax is for visitors to Campbell County, and unless they stay in local hotels, residents won’t pay the tax.

“If you live here, you won’t pay the extra tax,” Silvernell said. “But if you go anywhere else you will pay them that higher rate, and that money will be used to further promote their city and their county.”

The lodging tax is not new, she noted. Since 2008, there has been a 2% lodging tax on all hotel rooms, camping sites and bed-and-breakfasts in Campbell County. This tax rate is significantly lower than other cities in the state such as Casper, Cody and Cheyenne, which all charge a 4% lodging tax. The additional 2% added to the lodging tax would simply put Campbell County on equal footing with other cities in the state, according to Silvernell.

An average hotel room in Campbell County costs about $80, Silvernell said. Of that $80 rate, a 4% would add $3.20. The lodging tax goes to the CCCVB, where it is used for marketing purposes. CCCVB uses this money to entice rodeos and other sporting events and conventions to hold functions here.

Not everyone is sold on the idea, however.

The Wyoming Legislature passed House Bill 134 in February, which will impose a mandatory 5% tax on lodging services statewide effective January 1, 2021, according to Campbell County Commissioner Colleen Faber.

If the 4% lodging tax fails to pass in November, visitors staying in Campbell County hotels will be assessed the 5% lodging tax imposed by HB 134 beginning in January. Of that total, 3% will go to the Wyoming Office of Tourism and Travel. The remaining 2% will go to the CCCVB here via a monthly disbursement based on the amount of lodging revenue in the county.

If the 4% tax passes, the state will still assess the 5% lodging tax allowed by the House bill. Campbell County will add 2%, so visitors will pay a total of 7% lodging tax per night when staying in a local hotel, campground or bed-and-breakfast. The State will take the same 3% in either case. The lodging tax measure simply determines whether the county will receive a 2% tax or a 4% tax from lodging revenue.

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“Campbell County has long advertised its low lodging tax rate as a selling point for events to come here,” Faber said by email Tuesday. “Increasing the lodging tax because other counties may be higher is not a great selling point for raising taxes.”

Faber said she has received feedback from people in the lodging industry who are not in favor of the tax increase.

“I believe it would be best to see what the impacts of the 5% lodging tax are for tourism and travel in the county and then determine through feedback from the lodging industry if there is a need for the additional 2% increase to the 5% lodging tax,” Faber said.

Silvernell disagreed.

“I’ve got a friend who’s been in the hotel industry for 25 years, and she says she’s never had anyone call to book a room and ask about the tax rate,” she said.

Whether the increased lodging tax will help or hurt Campbell County hoteliers and lodging operators is a question voters will have to answer in November.