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TASK FORCE URGES A 1% RESTAURANT TAX IN SUMMIT FOR USE IN PROMOTING TOURISM

Summit County should begin charging a 1 percent tax to restaurant customers to raise money for tourist promotion despite the opposition of Park City restaurateurs, a task force has concluded.

The task force, formed two months ago to study the proposal, "has decided to say yes to this," said David Ringelberg, chairman of Park City's 60-member restaurant association. Representatives made the recommendation to the Summit County Commission on Tuesday.Members of Park City's restaurant association voted on the issue in November, and the majority voted against it. But that was because there wasn't a plan for spending the money, which by state law must go toward tourist promotion, Ringelberg said.

If the tax is approved, the restaurant association members would prefer the revenues be spent where they are raised. "We wanted to make sure the distribution was fair," Ringelberg said.

Russ Veenema, director of the Park City Chamber of Commerce and a task force member, said the tax would raise about $260,000 annually. Almost all of the revenues would come from Park City, where sales tax currently is 7.25 percent.

The task force has come up with four projects the money could fund: a theater for the Sundance Film Festival; into a Chamber of Commerce visitors center on the highway into Park City; a convention center in the new Park City Town Lift project; and a sports complex in the Snyderville Basin area of Summit County.

"I think the idea is sound," Ringelberg said. "I think any county in the state that doesn't go for it is kind of snoozing."

Chuck Folkerth, a restaurateur who also served on the task force, said he is a reluctant supporter of the task force's recommendation.

"I personally don't see any reason to raise taxes on people going out to dinner," he said, but added that the tax would be a good way to raise money for tourism-related building projects.

"I can see the good side (of the tax proposal)," he said. "I just don't want to raise taxes. The American public is paying far too many taxes as it is."

The restaurant tax became a possibility for all counties in Utah when state lawmakers passed special legislation in 1991 to fund the Salt Palace renovation. All Salt Lake County restaurantgoers now pay an extra penny for every dollar they spend dining out.

Public hearings are required before county commissioners can approve the tax.

Some supporters say the tax primarily affects tourists. But the Utah Taxpayers Association, which opposes the tax, says that is not true.

The Utah Restaurant Association is leading a drive to take the controversial issue to the voters. Ron Morgan, who heads the group, says a petition drive is going well enough to qualify the issue for the November ballot.

"We support allowing the citizens to vote on the issue," said Howard Stephenson, head of the taxpayers group.