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Tourist sales tax collections climb

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Utahns and tourists shelled out big bucks to stay in the state's hotels and eat at its restaurants last year.

People spent more than $548 million to rent hotel and motel rooms in Utah in 1997, an increase of 6.9 percent over the $513 million they spent in 1996, according to a new report from the State Tax Commission.And they forked over $1.74 billion to the state's restaurants last year, compared with $1.65 billion in 1996.

Both of those increases translate into more tax revenues for the state's cities and counties.

Room taxes brought in about $16.5 million in 1997, the report said. It said all Utah counties currently levy the maximum 3 percent transient room tax, which primarily targets tourists and business travelers.

Municipalities will be able to collect even more this year, as a law that went into effect Jan. 1 lets them impose an additional 1 percent transient room tax for general fund purposes. Price, South Salt Lake and Green River all plan to use the new tax, the report said.

Twenty-four Utah counties also impose a 1 percent restaurant tax on prepared food and beverages, and that brought in about $17.3 million in revenues last year.

The increase in money spent on room rentals extends a positive run that dates back to at least 1983. As recently as 1992, the total spent on hotel and motel rooms in Utah was only $312 million.

Leading the way in 1997 was Salt Lake County, where more than $273 million was spent on rooms and about $8.2 million was collected in taxes, according to the commission's report.

Summit County was next, with almost $80 million spent on rooms and $2.4 million collected in taxes, and Washington County was third, with $32 million in spending and just under $1 million in taxes.

On a percentage basis, Wasatch County led with a 42.7 percent increase in room rents from 1996 to 1997. For Wasatch Front counties, Davis rents were up 14.8 percent, Utah up 13.7 percent, Salt Lake up 9.5 percent and Weber up 4.6 percent.

Only six counties - Daggett, Emery, Grand, Morgan, Piute and Tooele - faced a drop in total room rents last year.

As would be expected for the most populous county, Salt Lake also reigned in restaurant sales, with about $901 million last year, followed by Utah County with about $200 million.

Davis County came in third to continue a string of large increases in restaurant sales. With the help of Layton's burgeoning "restaurant row," sales in the county increased about 12.6 percent from 1995 to 1996 and another 9.0 percent from 1996 to 1997, when they reached about $146 million.

Utah's resort communities of Alta, Park City, Brian Head, Springdale and Tropic also had a good year, judging from tax collections.

The state's resort communities sales tax lets areas that have a transient room capacity that is greater than or equal to 66 percent of their permanent population impose an additional sales tax of up to 1 percent.

That allowed Park City to collect about $3.3 million in additional taxes in 1997. It meant an extra $286,000 for Alta, $198,000 for Springdale, $117,000 for Brian Head and $50,000 for Tropic.

Other towns that will collect the resort tax starting some time this year are Kanab, Panguitch, Monticello, Boulder Town, Moab City and Green River, the tax commission said.