County reviews restaurant tax
During the last regular county commission meeting, Carbon officials conducted a lengthy discussions on a possible resolution affecting the transient room and the prepared food-beverage taxes.
The resolution had sections solidifying the use of restaurant tax money and how the funding advisory committees operate.
After listening to public comments about the restaurant and room tax issues at the meeting, Carbon County commissioners tabled acting on the resolution until a later date.
Commissioner Steve Burge introduced the matter at the public meeting.
Burge sponsored the proposed resolution and currently serves as Carbon County government's representative on the restaurant and room tax advisory boards.
"As we have looked at these taxes, the laws concerning them and the developments over the past few years concerning them, some interesting things came to light," stated Burge.
"One of the things I think many people have confused is that there are actually three funds set up, but everyone tends to call the whole thing the restaurant tax," added the sponsor of the proposed resolution.
Burge explained that the restaurant tax is separate from the transient room tax, with two different advisory boards making recommendations.
"The third fund is one for tax on car rentals which we don't have in this county," said Burge. "But the two taxes we do have go hand in hand with one another. But while they are a package, they do have different purposes as defined by the law."
The emphasis for the transient room tax or TRT is on promotion and the angle of the restaurant tax or RRT is geared toward venues, pointed out Burge.
"The TRT parameters basically states that no more than one-third can be used for brick and mortar while the RRT is just the opposite," noted Burge.
"This resolution isn't here to hurt anyone, but we need a plan. Stewardship over these funds is the answer. The good news is that there is a lot of money to spend for good purposes," continued the proposal's sponsor.
Concerns among the parties who have used the money in the past for promotion recently surfaced after two different versions of the resolution were passed around the community.
Most of the event organizers were concerned about having to change plans in midstream on projects if the county were to change how the money is distributed.
"Anything we do will not take place until the end of this year," explained Burge. "We just need a priority list and plan where we are heading in the future."
According to figures bantered about at the county commission meeting, the county has collected more than $800,000 through the taxes and divided up nearly $500,000 of the revenues to various projects and events during the six years the funds have existed.
"As one looks at these past years, eight of them were infrastructure," indicated Commissioner Bill Krompel. "It went for projects like the Helper baseball field, the college baseball field, park projects and so on. It appears, by the figures, that the bulk of the money has gone for venue projects in the past already. From the figures in the resolution, it appears there wouldn't be much of a change from what has been done in the past."
The meeting was then opened up to those attending to make comments and it took an hour and a half to hear them all.
"According to the figures I have, the county has given out $448,668 for brick and mortar projects and $48,000 for promotion in the last six years," said Price Mayor Joe Piccolo. "If you decide to go with this resolution, you will actually be giving a raise to the other programs over what you have spent in the past. My concerns lie in fixing how much can be spent each year and in limiting the meeting of the restaurant board to once a year."
Piccolo went on to explain that as he looked at it, the changes would limit the number of applications by having the RRT board meet once a year.
"I'm certainly not criticizing the volunteers who serve on that board," he said. "But once a year meetings would be a problem. They are an advisory board to the commission and I think that the county should look at both boards (the restaurant tax board that advises on the RRT and the travel council board that covers the TRT) very much like we look at the planning and zoning boards in both the county and the city."
Referring to how things have changed in the county's process since the lawsuit that was filed by Salt Lake County Attorney Doug Short against the Salt Lake County Commission concerning money given to various groups, Piccolo urged the commission and the advisory boards to recognize that changes needed to bemade but for the right reasons.
"I hate to see us relate to only one case and I think it is an error to do so," he stated. "The world is changing as we all know. Look at things. Who would have ever guessed that the best rapper in the world would be white, the best golfer black and the tallest basketball player Chinese. Things change all the time and we need to adapt to them."
It was at that point that the discussion of the entire group became more centered on how the funds should be administered, whether they should be looked at as one fund or two, how many meetings a year should be held and what the commission's relationship to the boards should be.
"Last year, at one point we were turned down flat for money for the Helper Art Festival and the commission came back and disagreed with the restaurant board and gave us the money we needed," said Helper Mayor Joe Bonacci. "Some personal agendas apparently entered into it, but we also didn't understand what we needed to present to them to make the situation more clear. We showed them financial statements, yet they didn't feel they had enough information. I think one of the things that needs to be done is to have guidelines as to what criteria they need to make decisions."
Commission Chair Mike Milovich pointed out that despite the board's disapproval of Helper's application, the commission "did the right thing" by awarding the funds to Helper.
"I just think that the board needs to look at the observable performance of the various events it funds rather than worrying about anything with fancy writing on it," stated Bonacci.
Nick Tatton, Price city community director, stated that he felt there needs to be a more definite screening process for applications to the board so that they aren't inundated with groups wanting money.
"They need to be able to take the time to deal with the applications that are legitimate and not with those that aren't," he said.
Mark Stuckenschnider, the director of the Helper Art Festival pointed out that if less money is given for promotion to events, then that will lower the taxes that are paid into the funds and that will give even less money to work with the next year.
"We got $15,000 last year and over half of that went for advertising outside of the area," he said. "If we hadn't received that money we would have had to cut back on the entertainment and the prize money for the competitions. That in turn would have affected next year's attendance."
Stuckenschnider also said he was against the board only meeting once a year.
"I guess if I had a full time job doing this and preparing for the annual meeting it would be okay," he said. "But trying to run my own business and doing this part time, it would be impossible."
Many others added comments and asked questions as well, concerning everything from meeting dates to what brick and mortar money really could buy.
In addition, the question of whether one or two boards should administer the money was discussed, with most commenting that they thought the two boards should work together, but they should be administered separately.
By the end of the meeting the commission had taken enough input to make the decision to not make a decision yet.
"After hearing all of this, I think it would be a mistake to pass this resolution as it is written at this time," said Burge. "But we will continue to address the process."