Kalispell chamber assesses tourist tax as part of growth study

The Kalispell Chamber of Commerce is gathering community feedback with the aim of creating a plan for “intentional growth” in the coming years, and among the issues being discussed are the benefits of a possible resort tax.

As part of the study, the chamber is carrying out an investigation and this week organized two round tables moderated by Cathy Ritter of Better Destinations, a tourism consultancy. The information gathered will be compiled into a report and Ritter will issue recommendations to the chamber based on its findings. The report is expected in mid-December.

Ritter has previously worked with other tourist destinations including Vail, Colorado and the Lake Tahoe region. Although she has yet to issue recommendations to the Kalispell Chamber, during one of the moderated discussions, Ritter said she has seen sales, resort and hotel taxes become a benefit for tourist destinations.

As an example, Ritter cited Vail’s “world-class” healthcare system, which she says is only possible in the city, which has fewer than 5,000 residents due to taxes levied on industries. related to tourism.

Under current state law, towns like Kalispell, due to its population, are not eligible for a local option tax on lodging, retail, and restaurant sales. Neighboring Whitefish and Columbia Falls each collect the 3% resort tax.

Kalispell’s only tourism-related tax on the books is a $2 per night flat rate on hotel stays, which was originally implemented in 2010.

“We are not considered a gateway community, but we are a destination in our own right,” said Lorraine Clarno, president of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce. “We would like at least to have the possibility of deciding [at the city level.]”

Clarno said that although the chamber does not yet have an official position on implementing a tourist tax, the hope is that the study will provide them with more information on the subject.

If the chamber supported such a tax, it would have to advocate at the state level to change the requirements that allow cities to implement such a tax, and it would ultimately have to be approved by a citywide referendum.

Clarno said if such a tax were added, the chamber would want the funds used in a way that benefits residents.

“These types of taxes can fund community assets that can be used year-round,” Clarno said. “If we were going in that direction, we would be looking at capital investments that would attract tourists, but would be accessible for our community. In this way, tourists pay, but we profit.

As an example of such projects, Clarno cited a ski race timing system funded by Discover Kalispell at Blacktail Mountain. The mountain needed such a system to host racing events, but now it is also used by local teams.

In commissioning the study, the chamber is seeking community input as part of planning a broad, long-term growth plan for Kalispell and the Valley.

Kalispell was recently identified as the fastest growing micropolitan city in the country, defined as one with a population between 10,000 and 50,000. Along with population growth, Kalispell is seeing an increasing reliance on tourism and an elongation of the traditional tourist season, according to participants at one of the roundtables.

“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change and growth, and we expect that to continue even if it slows down a bit in the short term,” Clarno said. “We want to drive intentional growth in a written plan for what we want Kalispell to be.”

The chamber seeks a wide diversity of voices and opinions in the study. According to Clarno, they have received over 300 survey responses so far, with 30 roundtable participants. They also conducted 20 interviews with “key stakeholders”.

AT THE FIRST roundtable, held on November 16, voters from a variety of backgrounds were present, including architecture, education, homelessness advocacy, conservation, the arts, historic preservation and government.

Also on the agenda for discussion at the meeting were topics such as community values, what sets Kalispell and the Flathead Valley apart as a tourist destination and place to live, and how the community wants the future of the region presents itself.

Participants were asked to identify what they thought was distinctive about the region. Among the items listed were Glacier National Park, the history of the area, the remoteness of northwest Montana, nearby Native American reservations, and Kalispell’s role as the region’s trading center.

Residents have expressed feelings of concern regarding the character of the development they see in Kalispell.

Architect Luke Rumage said he wanted to live in a community with more public transport and walking and cycling options for pedestrians, and felt that Kalispell’s evolution into a “bedroom community” was an obstacle to healthy growth.

“I’ve lived in places with 700 people and 7 million people,” Rumage said. “The thing they had in common is that you can walk to work, or the grocery store, or the park, and take your dogs or kids outside safely.”

Participants were also concerned about housing shortages and preserving the historic character of downtown Kalispell.

Potter Sherry Wells described the eight-story approved parking garage planned for downtown Kalispell as “ridiculous” and wondered how it would conform to the design guidelines adopted by the city.

The chamber’s investigation is open to the public until November 22 and can be viewed online at kalispellchamber.com

Reporter Adrian Knowler can be reached at [email protected] or 758-4407.

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