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CDC ponders lodgers tax hike

An organization in transition, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation met on July 9 for a reshuffling of officers while taking a stab at what appears to be a redefinition of its place in Pagosa Country.

Redefining the PSCDC is as much a matter of forward momentum as a question of survival: During the last year, the group was funded by local government to the tune of $110,000. However, that funding was awarded when both the county and town had a measure of control on the board, with Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross serving as chair (Pagosa Springs Town Manager David Mitchem serving as an alternate) and the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners sitting two different representatives (first Michael Whiting, then Clifford Lucero) during the last year. Both entities gave up their positions in April. With those funding mechanisms having essentially walked away from the organization, continued funding appears problematic.

However, that largesse — and the strings attached to it by government representation on the board — raised concerns regarding the organization’s ability to operate independent of politics or to exert a measure of autonomy.

Following the resignations of Aragon and Lucero in April, the PSCDC appeared to take a hiatus, cancelling its May meeting and not meeting again until mid June. In the interim, the board not only appointed Muriel Eason and Udgar Parsons to fill seats vacated by government officials, but also approved the expansion of the board from five to seven seats.

Those appointments indicated a substantial shift in the board’s philosophical approach as both Eason and Parsons have been active and vociferous in their opposition to a Wal-Mart locating in Pagosa Springs. With another sitting board member (Morgan Murri) also having gone on record with strong opposition to the impending big box, Wal-Mart opponents moved toward a majority on the board.

Given the apparent fundamental shift in board composition and philosophical approach, the July 9 meeting mostly involved the appointment of officers, a call for filling additional seats, articulating a revised approach to community development and a suggestion for developing a new revenue stream for the organization.

At the meeting’s start, the board made quick work of appointing officers, with Eason made chair, Mark Weiler elected co-chair and Parsons appointed as treasurer. At that point, PSCDC Executive Director Rich Lindblad informed the board that Bill Kinsley had recently submitted a letter of resignation and that there would be three seats momentarily vacant, with solicitations for filling those seats commencing immediately.

“The board has already been talking about potential candidates,” Lindblad said. “What we’re attempting to do is make sure there is lots of diversity on this board, folks that represent downtown, the needs of the community, our interest in the revitalization of the downtown area.”

Lindblad added that the group would be launching, “An exploratory program over the next 30 days, identifying candidates that would like to become members of our board.”

PSCDC administrator Karin Kohake told the group that interested candidates could submit letters of interest through the organization’s website (www.pagosaspringscdc.org) or by calling the office at 731-1443 if there were any questions.

The meeting’s focus shifted when Weiler (following the presentation of a video) asserted, “The CDC, in our fantasizing about a vision, is to help to educate our local business people into the value of having relationships with their customers when they’re here.

“We don’t have a lot of downtown representation in this group, part of our outreach for board members is going to be downtown business owners,” Weiler went on to say. “We’d like to be able to promote a downtown revitalization campaign, with examples of excellence that already exist and we can emulate. We’re going to have some wonderful opportunities come to us for infrastructure and facilities that will come into our awareness. But, they’re going to need a funding vehicle.”

It was at that point Weiler presented a nascent proposal for raising lodgers tax in town by 2 percent, with half the proceeds dedicated to funding the PSCDC and the rest dedicated to infrastructure projects developed by the Town Tourism Committee (see related story).

Currently, visitors staying in town hotels, timeshares, vacation rentals and commercial campgrounds pay a 4.9 percent lodgers tax on top of a 4 percent local sales tax (split between the county and town) and the state’s 2.9 percent sales tax.

Conceding that the tax hike would be a hard sell with the Lodgers Association (the first step in pressing a ballot initiative), Weiler told the board he did not believe the increase would necessarily be an uphill battle.

However, the path toward initiating a boost in the area’s lodgers tax would not be easy. Not only would area voters need to approve the tax increase, but they would also have to vote to amend the town’s Home Rule Charter. In 2006, Pagosa Springs voters approved raising lodgers tax by three percentage points, as well as dedicating the total of that tax to funding tourism promotion. That vote codified the tax dedication in the charter.

Weiler nevertheless asserted that the overall impact of a tax hike would be beneficial for local tourism and community development. In the end, Weiler claimed that the return on investment would far outweigh negative perceptions, stating his belief that, “The tax that we charge our tourists … compare it to other communities. It appears really quite modest to me.”

Weiler’s proposal seemed to have been with met with approval from the board as well as County Commissioner Michael Whiting and Chamber of Commerce Director Mary Jo Coulehan (Whiting met a less enthusiastic response when he presented his idea two days later at a TTC meeting).

With a proposal for additional funding, the PSCDC board had considered a step towards breaking away from the reliance on government dollars.

“I’m encouraged and optimistic for the CDC by what I’ve seen from the last few months,” Whiting said. “The vitality, the frankness, the intelligence, the opening up of communications on this in this organization. And I’m not the only one; I’m hearing it out in the community. People are very encouraged about this.

“I’m in particular very encouraged by what I’m seeing from this organization and this board,” Whiting said.

Whether or not a new board composition and new organizational direction was what Whiting found so encouraging, he did not say. However, the July 9 meeting made it clear that the PSCDC had largely changed, in a number of ways, from what it was in early 2010.

Residents interested in seeing if that change will continue can attend the organization’s next meeting, Monday, Aug. 6, at 3 p.m. in the Quality?Resort and Suites (formerly known as The?Pagosa Lodge).

jim@pagosasun.com

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