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La Plata County may propose slashing Visit Durango’s tax revenue

Voters could be asked whether to reallocate up to $500,000 annually
La Plata County may ask voters in November whether they want to reallocate up to $500,000 of lodgers tax revenue from Visit Durango. Currently, the destination management and marketing organization receives 100% pass-through of the tax. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

A potential ballot measure may ask voters in November if they wish to reallocate up to $500,000 annually of lodgers tax revenue collected in the county to address issues such as child care access for workers.

Currently, all of the county’s lodgers tax revenue – close to $1 million annually – funds Visit Durango.

The tax is paid by out-of-town visitors who rent units for less than 30 days.

Around 90% of the destination management and marketing organization’s $3.2 million annual budget comes from the lodgers tax collected in the city of Durango and La Plata County. The city collects a 5.25% tax on short-term stays inside city limits and the county collects a 2% tax on stays inside the county but outside city limits.

Citing results from an annual survey, the county is considering a ballot measure that would ask voters to redirect somewhere between 30% and 50% – $300,000 to $500,000 – to other tourism-related causes.

Two years in a row, the poll found that around 85% of voters would support shifting the money away from Visit Durango.

“This would allow for investing in the workforce that supports the robust tourism our community enjoys as a vibrant mountain destination,” county spokesman Ted Holteen said in a written statement.

Holteen is the county’s representative on the Visit Durango Board.

Visit Durango Executive Director Rachel Brown said the survey is flawed, and said she and county leaders were working together to avoid making too hasty a decision.

The survey question informed respondents that the lodgers tax revenues are used “for advertising and marketing for tourism,” and asked whether they would support “shifting more funds … to other purposes related to the impacts of tourism, such as housing and childcare for the tourism-related workforce, including seasonal workers, and for other workers in the community, with less funding for tourism marketing.”

“They described our services as strictly advertising and marketing for tourism, which does not even crack the surface of the breadth of what we do for the community,” Brown said. “We’re a destination management marketing organization, we practice sustainable tourism marketing, and we do feel that if that had been accurately described in the question, the results would have come out differently.”

The organization has, in recent years, shifted its image and mission away from purely marketing toward a posture that also addresses the impacts of tourism. This began in 2019, when the organization disposed of the “destination marketing” label and became a destination management and marketing organization.

“For us, it’s not just a pivot, it’s an entire 180,” Brown said previously.

She is concerned that slashing the organization’s budget by as much as 15%, as may be proposed, will demand cuts in both marketing and management.

Marketing cuts to the county-related services would impact parts of the economy such as condo rentals near Purgatory Resort, while cuts to management activities could detract from partnerships with organizations such as the San Juan National Forest, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, San Juan Mountains Association and Durango Trails.

“We do a lot of stewardship messaging – a majority of our marketing is sustainability and stewardship,” she said. “You’ve probably seen banners up over Main (Avenue) or ads on Facebook talking about safe backcountry recreating, following fire safety restrictions – things like that. So a lot of that education piece would go away as well.”

County officials are stressing that the concept is still in its infancy. The Board of County Commissioners has not yet considered ballot language, Holteen said, nor has it specifically decided where the revenue might be directed.

He indicated that support for organizations providing child care seems to be the most likely use of money, given that the $500,000 would not make a significant dent in most affordable housing projects.

If a question were to be posed to voters, it would have to happen in an even-year, per state law. Holteen indicated that if commissioners do decide to pursue a reallocation, it is likely to be put before voters this November, rather than in 2026.


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