Commission denies Price's restaurant tax fund request
|Price city started adorning trees in the city with clear Christmas lights for decoration purposes but before the city was able to finish the project, it was denied the rest of the needed funds from the Carbon County Commission.|
Carbon County commissioners voted last week to deny a request for restaurant tax funding from Price city.
Price applied for funds to be used toward the completion of a project that will light trees on Main Street in Price.
The proposal to put lights in trees along Main Street has been in the planning stages for months. Last spring, the city began putting lights into some of the trees.
The lights will eventually be on every night during the year according to the plan.
However, as Price city councilmember Betty Wheeler explained, the project has grown to more than lights.
The city now hopes to install a public address system and has spoken with an electrical engineer regarding the estimated costs associated with the expanded project.
The city has already spent some money on the project, as evidenced through the handful of trees that already have lights strung through their limbs and branches. But as the cost has now exceeded $40,000, the city decided to request $25,000 in restaurant tax dollars to help cover the costs.
Members of the commission expressed a variety of concerns as the county lawmakers deliberated whether to fund or deny the city's request.
Commissioner Steve Burge pointed out that the city and other organizations have outlined a plan to improve the appearance of downtown Price and increase revenue generated in the area.
Burge said the lighting project has not been included in any of the plans.The commissioner explained that he felt the projects which were outlined were supposed to have higher priority.
"Suddenly, this project is jumping to the top if the list," said Burge.
Burge wondered why the city's request hadn't been on previous lists of projects and questioned if the county should be funding a project that may not be a high priority.
"All these projects are nice, but there has to be some reasoning for them. I don't think there has been any on this," said Commissioner Mike Milovich.
Milovich wanted to know how the light on Main Street would help generate revenue from tourism. He pointed out that the lights would be on after dusk. In the summer, the city gets dark as late as 9 p.m., and in the winter as early as 5 p.m.. But many downtown stores close at 5 or 6 p.m.
Supporters of the funding request in the audience explained that many downtown stores have expressed a willingness to stay open later if the lights bring increased shopping traffic.
Still, Milovich wanted to see evidence indicating that the tree lights would generate additional tourism.
Burge explained that the purpose of the restaurant tax fund was to increase tourism in the county.
During the past few months as the tax board and commission have considered requests, the definition of the appropriate use of the funds has led the approval and denial of various requests.
State statute states that restaurant tax monies may be generated from taxes on food prepared in restaurants, short-term vehicle rentals and accommodations and services at hotels and similar establishments. That money is specifically to be used for "financing tourism promotion; and ... the development, operation, and maintenance of tourist, recreation, cultural and convention facilities."
State law further defines a convention facility as "any publicly owned or operated convention center, sports arena or other facility at which conventions, conferences and other gatherings are held and whose primary business or function is to host such conventions, conferences and other gatherings."
A cultural facility is "any publicly owned or operated museum, theater, art center, music hall or other cultural or arts facility."
A recreation facility or tourist facility is "any publicly owned or operated park, campground, marina, dock, golf course, water park, historic park, monument, planetarium, zoo, bicycle trails and other recreation or tourism-related facility."
Restaurants are defined as "any coffee shop, cafeteria, luncheonette, soda fountain or fast-food service where food is prepared for immediate consumption." That definition explicitly excludes "any retail establishment whose primary business or function is the sale of fuel or food items for off-premise, but not immediate, consumption; and ... a theater that sells food items, but not a dinner theater."
Given those definitions, the county is not allowed to spend restaurant tax dollars on anything else. The area that has led to debates among of the commission and the restaurant tax advisory board is "financing tourism promotion."
Some plans and projects may be considered by some groups to be tourism promotion. Another groups may disagree. So the law leaves some matters up to the subjective opinions of lawmakers.
In the last two funding cycles from the restaurant tax board, the commission has approved at least five requests. Of those requests, $50,000 has gone back into other areas of the county.
Specifically, $2,500 went to fireworks on July 4, $2,500 went to the county fair and rodeo and $50,000, the largest amount approved by the county, went to finishing the ball fields at the fairgrounds.
While the county has approved two partial requests from the Helper Arts Festival and East Carbon, those amounts were reduced from the initial requests.
The county has now fully denied requests from Sunnyside, Scofield and Price totaling more than $50,000.
Other requests that have been approved have paid for banners along the streets in in Price. That amount came to almost $38,000. An additional $70,000 has been pledged to Helper's Historic Mining and Railroad Museum.
In addition, the county generates approximately $150,000 from restaurant taxes. The amounts approved this year exceed $170,000.
Despite that difference, the county said last month that it anticipates spending restaurant tax dollars to help pay for promotion and design of a proposed OHV trail. In addition, last May, commissioners indicated that they expected to use an additional $50,000 if necessary to complete the construction of ballfields at the county fairgrounds.
After a decision in May, the county will not accept any requests until after the start of 2006. As a result, no requests from agencies other than the county will be accepted until that time.