By Nolan Madden
As Holbrook’s city officials chart its financial course for the coming fiscal year, their aim this time is to resolve the problematic dispute among entities over the lodger’s tax.
Holbrook, like many municipalities, imposes a tax on transactions for all commercial lodging accommodations within the city in order to provide revenues to fund advertising and promotion for tourist attractions and events, and to construct new recreational facilities.
The primary benefit is not only an improved quality of life as tourism features are developed and sustained locally, but also that more tourists will want to visit more often, stay longer and, ultimately, live here.
Finance Director Randy Sullivan reminded Mayor Bobby Tyler and the city council last week that the city’s lodger’s tax fund currently sits at a roughly $40,000 deficit, which it has carried for the past several years, and advised against increasing next year’s projected $165,000 lodger’s tax revenues in an effort to correct the issue.
Historically, the city gives the largest chunk of those funds each year to the Holbrook Chamber of Commerce ($50,000), the Navajo County Fair Board ($40,000) and the Navajo County Historical Society ($40,000), raising the officials’ greatest concerns over whether the city is getting the biggest “bang” for those bucks.
“I, for one would like to move in a new direction,” Vice Mayor Wade Carlisle advised the council.
“Since I’ve been on the council, we’ve funded the chamber exclusively, we’ve given a lot to the fair, and there’s lot’s of things I’d like to see us do with the lodger’s tax.
“I would like to see us get into a position where we could build a city recreation center and new pool, because ours is not in good shape. I look at the lodger’s tax and see that as a viable fund to pull money out of to do exactly those things,” he said.
Regarding established city events, Carlisle proposed, “I’d like to fund Hashknife Posse events to a larger extent. And I’d like to see a city event every weekend.”
The vice mayor cited a meeting he and Mayor Tyler recently attended with City of Scottsdale officials to request additional funding of Holbrook’s Hashknife Posse events. Before any funding would even be considered, the pair was asked by their counterparts only one question: is this an event that is going to provide our city with more stays per night?
“I would like us to get more into that type of a focus, because the reality is that as time moves on, we see a larger decrease in the big companies that we relied on, starting with the paper mill, and the power plant is ultimately going to go away. So we’re left with tourism. And in order for us to draw people in, we’re going to have to be event-oriented,” he said, citing motorcycle rallies and car shows as examples.
“I want to see a change in how we fund these other organizations, from the historical society, to the chamber, to the Navajo County Fair. I want to see a reduction in all of those, and I want to be focused on events and to draw people into our hotels,” he stated, recommending the guidance of these under the city’s community development director, Kathleen Smith, and suggesting a possible increase in the lodger’s tax rate to accomplish this.
“I think we spend too much money on things that don’t encourage folks to bring their money and stay here an extra night,” Carlisle said.
He acknowledged that the three city entities do attract tourists, but that from a professional standpoint, he has not seen the value in the area of commerce from funds invested in the chamber during his past decade as a councilmember.
During the discussion, Chamber Manager Billie Ann Perkins, who was hired in September 2015, agreed with the vice mayor’s estimation that the chamber has not seen active support and growth within the community recently.
“Unfortunately, as I reviewed our paperwork last year, I found The Lexington Inn is the only hotel that is currently a member. I am working on that, because it seems to be a pattern from the past,” she said, which Carlisle acknowledged as “an uphill battle for the chamber for the last 15 years.”
Carlisle continued, “If the Chamber of Commerce is not focused on bringing in and promoting our businesses, and those businesses don’t see the value in the chamber, then I don’t see the value in it as a city entity to fund it exclusively when none of the businesses do.”
The council members all agreed that the chamber’s most recent fall and winter community activities have garnered positive comments by local citizens.
Still, Mayor Tyler expressed his agreement with the vice mayor’s vision. “Given the direction that we are going, we need to try to do something different,” he said, relating that one of the city’s main goals is to try to get more foot traffic into its downtown areas, and that residents continue to voice their thanks for the development of recreation features, such as the new splash pad complex.
“We need to look at how we spend our money, and we do need to examine these three contributions,” said the mayor.
Councilman C.J. Wischmann disagreed that the city entirely do away with its chamber and historical society funding, and discontinue contributing funds to the annual county fair. As an alternative, he proposed that the city decrease lodger’s tax revenue contributions across-the-board by five percent.
Wischmann also suggested that the council receive, review and hear detailed expense reports from the entities, and allow each to present their financial reports to the council in person before deciding their fiduciary fate moving forward.
“I look at the community as a whole. I was raised here and I’d like to see it grow instead of shrink,” said Wischmann.
The council elected to take final action on the fiscal year 2017 lodger’s tax budget at its April 12 regular meeting.
By Nolan Madden