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Buena Vista trustees took on the topic of defining what constitutes a “lodging room” within the town of Buena Vista on Oct. 23, for purposes of the language for special election ballot issue 2A. It asks voters to approve the collection of a lodging occupation tax, intended to fund critical capitol improvement needs that increases in tourism and general population growth have made more urgent.

The official language of 2A reads: “The lodging occupation tax is initially set at $3.00 per day per occupied lodging room if the lodging property is assessed at the commercial rate by the Chaffee County Assessor (typically hotels and motels). The Lodging Occupation Tax is initially set at $5.00 per day per occupied lodging room (applied per booked unit) if the lodging property is assessed at a rate other than at the commercial rate by the Chaffee County Assessor (typically short-term residential rentals, recreational vehicle pads, or similar accommodations).”

Trustees discussed and unanimously agreed with the staff recommendation that for purposes of the ballot, each separate hotel or motel room will be considered a room, regardless of whether it is a suite with separate bedrooms and/or living spaces. Each short-term vacation rental will be a room regardless of the number of bedrooms and other rooms, provided it is rented out in its entirety. Each separate rented sleeping/living area of a short-term rental will constitute a separate lodging room.

Among those capitol needs to which 100 percent of the lodging tax would be applied are infrastructure projects, public safety equipment and facilities, open space, and recreational areas and facilities, signage and way-finding, and town beautification. The evening’s discussion include the revelation that the town’s more than 30-year-old ladder fire truck is in disrepair and needs to be replaced. The town has been relying on an agreement with Chaffee Fire District for a ladder truck capable of reaching the top floors of buildings 35 feet or taller, but that ladder truck is out of service too.

The unanimous approval of the definition will allow a town ordinance installing the tax to go into effect if the ballot issue passes during the Nov. 6 special election.

“So, our intent is if someone rents a vacation rental – if it’s one bedroom or a 10-bedroom – if they take the whole thing, it’s one fee,” said Trustee Cindy Swisher. “If it is each room rented separately, then it is a fee per each transaction.”

What trustees and staff also acknowledges is that in reality, the tax is levied on the operator of the lodging facility, not the tenant. So the operator can choose to adjust the fee they charge, or not. The flat fee schedule has to be applied, unlike the county where a sales tax percentage can be collected.

Commissioner Libby Fay pointed out that it would become important for the town to insist that entities such as Airbnb’s be compelled to collect the fee, but Town Attorney Jeff Parker clarified the ballot issue.

“This is a tax on the operator for operating – not a tax on the renters – the invitees to lodge in that room,” said Parker. “So operators can choose to add it to room rates or not. It’s going to be one occupation rental, one fee.”

Mayor Duff Lacy pointed out that the trustees weren’t yet adopting the ordinance, but “approving the lodging room definition so that the ordinance draft meets the intent of how the law would apply if the ballot issue passes.” Plans call for the lodging tax to be due the same day as sales tax is due to the town, the 20th of each month.