Stillwater lodging tax examined again

The Stillwater City Council approved a first reading of an ordinance Jan. 7 to extend the city’s lodging tax for another three years. Citing the fact that it appeared to be accomplishing its goals, the council agreed to approve the draft of the extension. A second reading must still be approved before the extension is finalized.

One person attended the meeting to object. Tom Lynum, of the Sauntry Mansion, reiterated arguments made against the tax when it was last approved.

He said that last time the tax was approved, many lodging business owners claimed the tax was unfair, increasing their prices by 3 percent.

“Stillwater is different than other places with lodging taxes,” Lynum said. “The vast majority of our visitors get in their car and drive home at the end of the day.”

He also reminded the council the promises that were included in the imposition of the tax, including metrics to determine if the tax is accomplishing its goals, as well as an audit of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. He wasn’t aware of that happening.

“I’m not saying there has been any impropriety,” he said. “I simply wanted to remind you of the ideas you shared to have oversight on this tax.”

The ordinance has been around for quite some time, but Lynum said the tax could negatively impact the city’s best tourists who have extended stays in the city.

City Attorney Dave Magnuson said that taxes are monopolized by the state and that the lodging tax is the only one approved for city use that can be used for a Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to help market the city.

“At first I opposed this tax,” Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki said. “But I’ve seen it functional for many years, especially with how bad it got in 2009 and 2008. It’s really hitting it’s stride right now, frankly.”

Councilmember Doug Menikheim said that the tax is being used to help further the city in its attempts to become a 12-month-a-year destination and in making the city better.

“When you talk about the metrics and the fact that the taxes should be audited I agree.” Councilmember Tom Weidner said. “A lot of us pay taxes against what we’d like to do, but the promises delivered with the ordinance should be included in that. We did ask for an audit of the CVB to see how they spent their money earlier this year, correct.”

Magnuson confirmed that he had sent them a letter telling the CVB that an audit would be mandatory due to the financial level they’re operating at.

The CVB is expected to appear before council Jan. 21.

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

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