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Counties wary of plan for tourism $$ reports

A desire by the state to see how certain tourism tax revenues are spent has a few counties wondering if the state wants to get its hands on that money.

In its final meeting Monday, Utah's Tourism Task Force voted to support draft legislation calling for counties to report to the state on their use of tourism, recreation, cultural and convention facilities tax funds, known as the TRCC tax. It also calls for the counties to report on the use of the TRCC and transient room tax, or TRT or hotel room tax.

The TRT report would detail spending for recreation, tourism, film production and conventions, plus the building and operation of tourism facilities. For TRCC, counties would need to list spending on tourism promotion or developing and operating tourism-related facilities.

The matter advances to the Legislature's Workforce Services and Community and Economic Development Interim Committee.

Several legislators noted that counties already face the requirement of an audit for TRT spending.

Task force co-chairman Rep. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said $50 million to $55 million is collected in TRT and TRCC taxes annually.

"I think we have a fiduciary responsibility to know how those monies are being spent," Adams said. "We've heard the counties are doing a good job, (and) the other entities involved are trying to do their very best. We simply want to know what they're doing."

Adams said the draft legislation is "simply an effort to try and stay informed."

The other co-chairman, Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said it is "our attempt to make it a little more uniform and put it to the specific people who need to see it."

But several county representatives were skeptical, especially with the draft legislation being made available for the first time at Monday's meeting.

"We're, from my point of view, getting a little paranoid about what's going on," said Jim Eardley, a Washington County commissioner. "Since I've been on the commission now for about seven years, there's been a constant attempt, it seems to me like, for the state to have a more and more active role in those funds, even to the point of taking them from the counties. I guess that's what makes me nervous and makes me worry a little bit."

"We have some deep concerns about why you want to know this," Garfield County Commissioner Maloy Dodds told the task force. "It seems to me like a county issue, not a state issue."

Dodds later said he is worried that the legislation would be "the first step in raiding the TRT tax because it is a huge source of revenue out there laying on the table, and you guys scare me."

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said counties maintain broad discretion on spending but noted that concerns had been raised in an earlier task force meeting about Salt Lake County spending the hotel room tax on golf course maintenance.

"Now, you have a lot of latitude, but we're concerned about that," Buttars said. "We don't want that to be able to be used to build new libraries — it's got to be on tourism. We don't see how maintaining your golf course is promoting tourism. So all we're saying is you can keep the latitude, but we'd like to see where it's going, and if you're spending all your transient tax on golf courses, we've got a problem."

Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, said having the tax-spending information would help state tourism officials make better decisions about their own tourism-promotion spending. The idea of the legislation is "not to take your money away but for us to make complementary decisions so that what we do is the best for the state," she said.

"Our intent is not to take your money," reiterated Rep. Peggy Wallace, R-West Jordan.