Polling deters Colorado Springs' push for vote on tourism tax increase

September 8, 2016 Updated: September 8, 2016 at 6:29 pm
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An vote that was expected next year on doubling the tax on hotel rooms and rental cars in the Colorado Springs area will be delayed. Polling indicated the proposal had no better than a 50-50 chance of passing even after an extensive advertising campaign, backers of the proposal said.

Doug Price, CEO of the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, who had led the effort to seek voter approval of the tax increase to expand tourism promotion efforts, said last week that the bureau will not ask the City Council to put the matter on the April ballot. The decision came after he met last month with Mayor John Suthers and they agreed that gaining voter approval of the tax increase would be an uphill battle, even with a extensive campaign to convince voters they would not be paying the bulk of the tax.

"I looked at the polling, and it was not wonderful," Suthers said Wednesday. "Without an education campaign (on who pays the tax and how the money is used), it would lose fairly significantly. Even with a lot of education on who pays it and where the money goes, it was close to a 50-50 proposition, and that's before any opposition (campaign). He (Price) is free to petition onto the ballot or ask the council to refer it to voters, but the polling shows that it is not the right time.

"I think it needs to be done. Our rate is much lower than competing cities," the mayor added.

The poll was done early this year by Louisville, Colo.-based Magellan Strategies LLC, which also did polling last year that showed overwhelming public support for a sales tax increase to fund road repairs. Voters in November approved by a nearly 2-1 margin a 0.62-percent sales tax that is expected to raise $250 million through 2020 to repair the city's most-traveled roads. Price said the bureau paid Magellan about $3,000 to do the poll of likely voters.

Another consideration was a potential competing ballot measure that would fund parks maintenance, making voter approval of both measures difficult, Price said. The bureau also wants to incorporate increased funding into a tourism-industry master planning process that is just beginning. The plan would map out how the industry should grow during the next 10 years, including better air service and public transportation, additional meeting space and sports facilities, and expanded advertising and marketing efforts to promote the Pikes Peak Region to tourists and meeting planners.

"We hope to come up with a tourism master plan by late 2017 or early 2018, so we could go before voters for more funding in the fall of 2018 or the spring of 2019," Price said Thursday. "By that time, the (proposed) Olympic Museum would be open and we will have a brand-new attraction that we will need to invite people to come and see."

Price has spent much of the last 1½ years trying to build support to increase the tax, which has remained unchanged in the 36 years since it was enacted at 2 percent on hotel rooms and 1 percent on rental cars, raising $5.06 million last year and $2.51 million in the first half of this year. Two-thirds of the revenue from the tax is used by bureau to fund its $3.4 million promotion budget."If you look at other cities, they collect between 6 percent and 10 percent, and I don't think tourists care about the level (of the tax). ..." Suthers said. "The good news is that revenue from the LART (lodging and auto rental tax) is growing significantly."

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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