Mayor Supports Lodging Tax Ballot Question
by Pat Willits, Mayor of Ridgway
Apr 01, 2010 | 1270 views | 0 0 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The Town of Ridgway annual municipal election of the Town of Ridgway will be held on Tuesday, April 6, 2010. The polling place is located at the Ridgway Community Center, adjacent to Town Hall, on Railroad Street. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Absentee balloting information is available by calling Pam Kraft, Ridgway Town Clerk, at 626-5308 ex.11.

On the ballot are four excellent candidates vying for three spots on Town Council. I am running unopposed for Mayor. Also on the ballot is one referendum: Measure A, the lodging tax referendum. What you won’t see at the polls on election-day is an exit poll survey question on mandatory voting. More on that, later in this letter.

Measure A proposes to reallocate all of the lodging tax collected in Ridgway annually towards tourism promotion and economic development activities. Currently, as approved by voters in 2002, half of lodging tax revenues collected within the Town Of Ridgway are directed toward tourism promotion and economic development activities, and the other half are directed toward mitigation of the effects of growth and tourism.

The current $2 per room per night lodging tax generates about $25,000 a year in revenue to the Town. Since 2002, 50% of that amount has been allocated to tourism promotion and economic development activities. The Town each year since has accepted a proposal from the Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce for marketing, advertising, web site maintenance, special event promotion such as Christmas in the Park, and partial reimbursement for operating the visitor center. The Town insists that the Chamber use lodging tax revenues we forward to them to market all of Ridgway, not just Chamber members. From my perspective, there is logic to using at least part of the lodging tax to attract attention and visitors to Ridgway from outside the immediate region.

In the past the Town has used lodging tax revenues as part of match required to build the soccer fields, restroom, skate park and tennis courts at the Regional Athletic Park, the river and park improvements at Rollins Park, the sidewalk along Sherman Street (Highway 62) from Town Park to Rollins Park, and now to the fairgrounds, and the new gazebo to be built at the Regional Park this summer. We’ve gotten a lot of bang for the buck from our half of the lodging tax.

So where do I stand on Referred Measure A? After much thought, I support a yes vote. An additional $12,500 a year goes a long way toward better promoting Ridgway and attracting new economic development into our community. The simple truth is that keeping tourism healthy is a key component of our local economy. Tourism keeps people employed, and boosts sales tax revenue to the Town. And sales tax that comes back to the Town is just as helpful for pursuing new capital improvement projects as is the lodging tax. I see a yes vote on Measure A as a win-win vote for everybody.

After further analysis, the Town of Ridgway has decided not to conduct a non-binding opinion poll asking the Town to consider a mandatory voting requirement for all residents of legal voting age in Ridgway.

When Tom Hennessey first brought this to Town Council’s attention, I supported asking non-binding poll question, to gage citizen concern for poor voter turnout. On further review, Council and staff do not think it makes sense for Ridgway to pursue this on our own. Some of us do think a national mandatory voting law, similar to what a number of other countries have, bears great consideration. For Ridgway, to approach this unilaterally would be difficult, it would be costly to administer and enforce, it would greatly anger some residents, and in the end, we’d likely get sued by somebody claiming violation of freedom of speech. As interesting as it is to think about a case like this ultimately ending up in the Supreme Court of the United States, we have to think about Town priorities, resources, and time available to work this through the process. Tom thinks that there would be outside interest groups that would come to our aid, and that may be true. But the initial costs and likely political fallout doesn’t make the effort by one town worth the time, in our opinion.

We thank Tom for generating discussion about poor voter turnout and the implications for participatory democracy. I enjoyed reading some of the supporting information supplied by Tom, particularly an article by John Dean entitled Is It Time To Consider Mandatory Voting Laws? Worsening Voting Statistics Make A Strong Case ( I have a feeling we’ll hear more from Tom on this subject in the future.

That’s my five cents (two cents adjusted for inflation).

– Pat Willits, Mayor of Ridgway
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