JACKSON, Wyo. - For the first time in years, Teton County residents have overwhelmingly approved a 2 percent lodging tax.
Unofficial results from the county clerk show about 60 percent of voters Tuesday supported the tax by a vote of 5,017 to 3,391. Backers had launched a strong campaign supporting the tax, after voters rejected a sales tax hike earlier in the year.
"The community understood our message," said Jim Waldrop, general manager of The Wort Hotel, who helped the tax campaign. "It's a new economy. The community needs this money for many different things. That has been our message from the beginning."
The lodging tax will generate an estimated $3.5 million annually, starting Jan. 1, the Jackson Hole News and Guide reports.
Teton County once had a lodging tax, but it was overturned in 1994. Voters defeated it twice more, in 1996 and 1998. In 2006, elected officials didn't bother asking voters again.
In Wyoming, cities, towns and counties can levy a tax of up to 4 percent on most sleeping accommodations for guests staying fewer than 30 days.
Since the end of 2007, the valley has lost 2,000 jobs, and tax supporters said the region needed money for various services.
About 60 percent of money from the lodging tax will be used for promotion, or about $2.1 million. Thirty percent, or about $1.05 million, would be used for visitor services and be split between the county and town based on how much was collected in each jurisdiction. The rest would be for general funds.
Tax opponents said they still see glaring problems.
"The big questions is going to be, 'Can the county possibly pay for all the things they promise to pay for?'" said Armond Acri, Save Historic Jackson Hole executive director. "The interesting thing to watch is where does the money actually get spent."
Acri said the makeup of the joint board also will be of interest.
"Sixty percent of the people have to be from the lodging industry," he said. "That narrows it down quite a bit. It'll be interesting to see who the other 40 percent are."
Kari Cooper with Jackson Hole Air Improvement Resources said lodging tax revenues could help the valley coordinate its marketing, the same way Aspen, Colo., and Park City, Utah, have promoted themselves worldwide for years.
"We've been behind for a very long time," she said.
JH AIR raises millions of dollars to guarantee revenue to airlines serving the valley each winter.