The always provocative topic of what to do with lodgers tax revenues is on Durango City Council’s June 20 meeting agenda.
At its next regular meeting, City Council is scheduled to entertain recommendations about how to divide $361,084 of unused lodgers tax revenues already broadly earmarked for tourism causes.
The city’s lodgers tax revenues are allocated to several funds for transit, arts and culture, and tourism. Tourism is the largest funding pool, receiving 55% of lodgers tax revenues.
Tom Sluis, city spokesman, said 2022 lodgers tax revenues for the tourism fund totaled $1.82 million, and after accounting for two contracts with Visit Durango, a destination management master plan and a 10% reserve policy, $361,084 remains to be spent.
Options presented this week to City Council included additional fast-charging stations for electric vehicles; an inventory and rebranding of downtown transportation signage; and more funding for events, trails and destination management through Visit Durango, the city’s tourism office.
Visit Durango and the city’s sustainability division requested $245,500 and $200,000, respectively, although staff recommendations were to allocate $128,000 for the former and $133,000 for the latter, Sluis said. The city’s transportation department requested $100,000, and staff members recommended that amount be provided.
Rachel Brown, executive director of Visit Durango, said City Council should consider the intent of Question 1-A approved by residents in 2021. The ballot question asked voters if the city should increase its lodgers tax 3.25% and split funding.
Voters approved use of the lodgers tax revenues in these ways:
- 55% of revenues for tourism marketing.
- 20% of revenues for transit services.
- 14% of revenues for arts and culture activities.
- 11% of revenues to be used as directed at the discretion of City Council.
She said the tourism office aims to use an additional $85,000 toward local event marketing grants after already spending most of $180,000 earmarked for its grant program this year, and to put $38,000 toward programmatic events such as an outdoor winter recreation-themed event, a Durango Arts Week, and other programs such as Spoketober and Holiday Station.
In trails and infrastructure enhancements, Visit Durango wants to put $12,500 toward a new trail adoption program and use $45,000 for bike racks at trailheads, parks and hotels, Brown said.
And, Visit Durango just launched a new grant called the Destination Advancement grant, but it only has $70,000 for the program and would like to increase that amount (by $65,000), she said. The goal of the program is to promote a socially and environmentally sustainable destination to live in and visit.
“Grants will fund environmental sustainability programs, DEI initiatives, business accessibility upgrades, product development projects and more,” she said.
Brown said all of the funding goals outlined are for destination management or tourism sustainability and don’t include activities such as marketing, sales, operations or running the Durango Welcome Center.
Sarah Hill, city director of transportation, said her department is seeking $100,000 in funding from lodgers tax revenues designated for tourism efforts to perform an audit and inventory of existing signage posted downtown to determine if a rebranding is necessary.
“One of the main things that we heard through all of our public outreach is there’s not good signage to direct people to where our parking facilities are,” she said.
She said the transportation department conducted a thorough parking management study, including several public meetings, last year that garnered more than 1,000 responses. One recommendation born from the study was to identify ways to disperse parking traffic throughout downtown – and signage could help that cause.
“This request would help us direct visitors from out of town who aren’t familiar with parking lots that we have on Second (Avenue) or the transit center lots, which we know are often vacant,” Hill said.
The funding allotment would help pay for the signage audit and for new signs and their installation, she said.
Marty Pool, city sustainability manager, said two big grant opportunities for EV (electric vehicle) fast chargers are coming up, and the funding request of $200,000 – or the staff recommendation of $133,000 – would help his office provide grant matching funds.
Two EV fast chargers have been installed at the Durango Transit Center for several years, and Pool said he hopes to secure grants to install four more in the Transit Center’s lot. The two grants, one state and one federal, are each worth about $1 million and each require about a 20% match.
He said EV fast chargers fall under tourism spending because fast chargers are most used by people traveling and going on road trips.
“You fill up an EV when you’re commuting differently,” he said. “You can plug it in at home, you can plug it in at your place of work. But when you’re out on the road and really doing road tripping and tourism, you need that fast charging. That is what we are seeing across the board of our existing fast chargers, is that it’s a tourism-related endeavor.”
The two current fast chargers at the Transit Center produced a “modest” amount of revenue between $4,000 and $5,000 in 2022, and as usage of fast chargers increases, the devices could become sources of substantial revenue streams.