Participate in future of resort tax

| January 13, 2021 1:00 AM

A source of critical community funding is once again up for a vote, and I urge you to participate and help shape the future of our small mountain town. The city's resort tax on non-essential goods and services was originally approved by voters for a 20-year term in 1995. Since its inception, the resort tax has allowed for $12.5 million in property tax relief, $23.6 million in street and infrastructure improvements, and $1.6 million has been spent improving and developing our local city parks. In 2016, 84% of Whitefish voters approved raising the tax from 2% to the maximum of 3% to secure our city's drinking water and permanently protect over 3,000 acres of working forest land and recreation opportunities in Haskill Basin.

As a member of the original resort tax steering committee, we were excited at the possibility that tourism would help improve our community and quality of life, but a shortfall of the current tax allows only for capital improvement projects — not long-term maintenance.

Over recent years, use has skyrocketed at our trailheads and local parks. During the height of summer, visitors account for over half of Whitefish Trail use and trailheads are often full. Whitefish Legacy Partners has done an exceptional job caring for this amazing city-owned asset, and as our community continues to grow, it would be short sighted once again to approve the next 20-year term of our resort tax and not include maintenance of our local trails and parks. After all, the Whitefish Trail generates over $6 million in consumer spending in Whitefish every year, and it's time a sliver of those tourism dollars circle back to support our local outdoor recreation amenities.

The city is hosting a public hearing on Jan. 19 to discuss the next resort tax allocation. The proposal will be on the ballot next November. I urge each and every one of our citizens to participate in this important public process. As the current 20-year term expires, the Haskill Basin Conservation Easement will be paid in full, thus, opening up more funding for streets, infrastructure, parks, and most importantly — maintenance.

Let's work together to ensure the long-term health of our community and include maintenance of our parks and trails in the next 20-year term of the resort tax, Now, more than ever, preservation and maintenance of our public recreation areas for future generations is essential.

Lin Akey is the Branch President Glacier Bank, the former WLP Board Chair and founding chair of theResort Tax Steering Committee.