Polson’s resort tax initiative tabled, for now

by Matt Baldwin
Daily Inter Lake | July 30, 2020 8:55 AM

An initiative to have voters decide on a Polson resort tax in the November election has been put on hold.

The city of Polson’s Economic Development Council on July 23 voted unanimously to table the matter until next year.

Earlier this month, the Council discussed preliminary terms that would set a year-round resort tax at 3% for 20 years. Most of the revenue — 80 percent — would go toward city street maintenance and improvements, while 17 percent would be returned to city residents through a property tax rebate, and the remaining 3% would cover administrative fees associated with the tax.

The Polson City Commission was expected to take a first look at the Council’s proposal and hear public comment at a meeting this week.

Instead, the Council decided to table the process, mainly as a cost-saving measure.

According to Polson Finance Officer Cindy Dooley, it could cost the city up to $8,000 to have the measure placed on the already-crowded November ballot.

“There’s quite a bit on this November ballot,” Dooley explained to the Council. “[Lake County Election Administrator Katie Harding] said there’s good chance it would push our measure to a separate page.”

Harding told Dooely that can cause a lot of problems with the voting process.

“People sometimes if they’re doing a mail-in ballot won’t send that separate page,” Dooley said. “They have to track everyone of those down that did not send the extra page.”

According to Harding, that would drive up the cost substantially.

Instead, the council is looking at January of 2021 for a special vote on the resort tax. According to Dooley, that would cost about $2,400 total.

The Council also agreed that it would be better for the new city manager to be involved in the process. The Polson City Commission was expected to hire a new city manager at its July 28 meeting.

“We can meet again after the city manager is hired,” Economic Development Council Chair Rich Forbis said.

Polson has considered enacting a resort tax previously. In 2009, a measure placed on the ballot was overwhelmingly rejected by voters. In 2016, the City Commission denied a plan to bring the issue to a vote.

A resort tax is generally considered a way for small municipalities with a high rate of visitors to manage wear and tear on local infrastructure. A resort town is defined as an incorporated city with a population of less than 5,500. A significant portion of the town’s economic base must be tourism-related.