RIDGWAY – While the Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce currently receives half of the town’s collected lodging tax funds for marketing purposes, they now plan to ask voters to direct the other half of the lodging tax to the chamber as well. The Ridgway Town Council gave the nod to town staff at its Oct. 14 meeting to begin preparing a ballot question that would go before voters in April, asking for the remaining half of the lodging tax revenues to be redirected to the RACC.
Of the roughly $24,000 the town collects annually from lodging tax, it directs half of that amount to the RACC for the purposes of promoting tourism in Ridgway. With a declining membership in a rigid Ridgway economy, the RACC is in need of more money to promote area businesses. Receiving another $12,000 annually could empower it to do more. Just how the RACC plans to spend the money for promotion purposes is still up for debate, which is expected to intensify as the election moves closer.
“It will be interesting to see how the discussion goes as we move closer to the election,” Mayor Pat Willits said. “It is my sense around town that the community enjoys and supports the business community but there really isn’t enough community to support the businesses. These are tough economic times and we are feeling it here. I think when voters look at this, it will not be raising sales tax, it is redirecting the bed tax.”
RACC Board Vice President Judi Snelling said she isn’t sure how the language on the ballot question should be worded in regards to where the money will be redirected, but one approach would be to “keep it general but make it clear that it will go toward marketing a community and promoting tourism.”
The request from RACC boardmembers to draft a ballot question came after a Sept. 16 work session, where members of the RACC and business owners approached the town council seeking ways to improve the town’s business environment. Gary Woods, co-owner of San Juan Balloon Adventures, suggested that an economic development group be created to start a coordinated effort to better define business’s needs and seeking solutions to those needs.
Since the work session, Snelling said the RACC is applying for grant monies to facilitate the creation of such a group.
Woods further explained at the town council meeting that this economic development group can form an economic plan for the town.
“We need an overall economic development plan for the community,” Woods told council. “In other communities, town council has mandated it. Communication and coordination are the most valuable things that keep [communities] sustainable. I feel strongly that this plan should be looked at and it is something the town should make a part of what is the master plan that includes the economic development side.”
Members of town council were generally agreeable to the formation of an economic development group and that an economic development plan could be beneficial to the Ridgway business community as a whole.
Mayor Pro Tem John Clark said he sees no reason why the town couldn’t oversee an economic development group and foster its growth, but “at some point it needs to be its own entity.” Clark also said he would support the use of lodging tax revenues to support the economic development group, if it is created.
Willits said in an interview on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect the wording of the ballot question to be drafted anytime before January since the April election is far on the horizon.