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Whitefish resort-tax extension a wise investment

| October 31, 2021 12:00 AM

In the Nov. 2 municipal election, Whitefish voters are being asked to extend the city’s 3% resort tax another 20 years and make some minor changes in how the revenue is spent. When one considers the improvements Whitefish has been able to make with the $46 million generated since the tax began in 1996, this should be an easy decision. The tax extension deserves to pass by a landslide.

The resort town has been able to completely rebuild miles of city streets and replace aging water and sewer lines. Parks have been improved and a portion of the revenue helps pay for the Haskill Basin Conservation easement that protects the city’s water supply.

City property owners have gotten tax rebates from the get-go, with a roughly 23% reduction in the city portion of their annual tax bill.

Nobody likes to pay taxes, but in the whole scheme of things, a resort tax is an equitable one. The idea is that visitors putting pressure on city services should help pay the bills. And since Whitefish’s resort tax applies to restaurants and lodging, as well as “luxury” retail goods, visitors are indeed putting money into the resort tax coffers.

Anyone who spent time in Whitefish this summer and into the fall easily saw how impacted the city was with increased traffic and visitors stuffing city sidewalks and stores.

Without a resort tax, Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld said it’s “inevitable” other taxes and assessments would go up to compensate for the revenue that’s received in great part from visitors.

In addition to extending the tax to 2045, it shifts the allocation for streets, storm sewers and sidewalks from 65% to 58% and increases funding for bike paths and parks to 10% The measure also sets aside 2% of total collections for the maintenance of the Whitefish Trail. That seems reasonable, seeing what an economic driver that trail system has become.

Columbia Falls, another city heavily impacted by increased tourism to Glacier National Park, also now has a resort tax. Voters embraced a 3% tax that just took effect Oct. 1. The handwriting really is on the wall for these North Valley cities that are dealing with unprecedented numbers of visitors.

There will always be the naysayers who won’t support tax increases of any kind, but at three pennies on the dollar most locals don’t notice the few extra cents they’re paying. Cumulatively, though, resort tax revenue is a lot of bang for the buck.