Friday, March 05, 2021

Guest column: Resort tax is Polson’s best option

by By Gerry Browning for The Lake County Leader
| January 21, 2021 12:30 AM

In 2015 the city of Polson asked local citizens to volunteer for the Economic Development Council. As a business owner on Main Street since 1994, I thought I might have something to offer and volunteered. Our first task was to review and advise the City Commission on the use of a resort tax.

The Montana Department of Commerce designated the city of Polson a resort town in 2009 and reaffirmed it in 2015. The basic idea behind a resort tax is to allow places with high numbers of visitors but relatively few residents to manage the wear and tear on local infrastructure without overburdening local citizens.

Our town grows dramatically during our summer season with an influx of visitors and “snow birds.” Out-of-state and Canadian plates are in every parking lot. Highway 93 is a gateway to Glacier Park, and millions of people visit there, many stopping for something to eat, to enjoy the lake or just look around. Restaurants are filled and cash registers at downtown businesses are ringing. The numbers don’t lie; we are a resort town.

The city of Polson is also the county seat and home for numerous professional businesses (medical, legal, dental, accounting, etc.). Our schools house over 1,000 students and employees that travel from outside the city limits. People from all over the county come to Polson to do business on a daily basis.

Registered voters in the city of Polson must approve a resort tax before it can be implemented. In 2008 it did come before the voters of Polson and was defeated. People were concerned that it was not explained well, data from the Department of Commerce wasn’t correct, business owners were concerned about losing business, and citizens were skeptical about the use of the funds by the city.

These concerns were at the forefront of many EDC meetings. We reviewed countless documents from other towns that had voted for a resort tax, spoke with local business owners, gathered input from other city managers, public meetings and presentations. We spoke with the representatives of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, since we are on a reservation, about the impact on tribal members and businesses. We reviewed several other ways we could fund city projects (SIDs, grants, loans). We also reviewed the summary report from the Heart & Soul project done in 2013 that had organized numerous community meetings to gather input from citizens about what they valued in our community and what they felt were areas that needed to be improved. Needless to say, as I look over all the papers on my kitchen table, I can honestly say we spent a lot of time, energy and thought on the proposed resort tax.

The EDC came to the conclusion that implementing a resort tax was the best option to capture funds from all the many people who visit, work, pass through and live in Polson. The resultant income would only be used to improve Polson streets and sidewalks without putting the financial burden on the shoulders of the approximately 5,000 residents of the city of Polson.

I urge you to go to and click on the Resort Tax Ballot Initiative tab. There is a wealth of information for you to review, including taxable and non-taxable items. I believe that informed Polson voters will come to the same conclusion as the EDC and vote in favor of this initiative.

Gerry Browning, a retired business owner and former nurse, resides in Polson.