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Mon, Aug. 19

Give the tourists, our guests, a break, OK?

Every business and resident in the Prescott tri-city area benefits from tourism.

Sales tax revenue partially generated from tourists delivers general service benefits. Trickle-down monetary effects on all area businesses A to Z are an important factor in the local economy. Tourism creates employment and is environmentally friendly.

As a community, we in the tri-city area not only solicit tourists, but we also invite them to stay in local hotels and motels, eat in local restaurants and spend money in local stores and businesses.

Many have expressed extreme concern and disapproval with the idea of using commercial and industrial expansion as major sources of municipal revenue. Increased tourism with outsiders using our area's attributes may be a palatable alternative.

While some Arizona communities have as much as a 2 percent additional tax rate on restaurants and bars and as much as 4 percent extra for bed tax, I disagree with targeting the lodging and hospitality industries and their customers with special taxes to pay for benefits for the entire community.

Because other communities take advantage of tourists with increased costs to visit their towns is not a good reason for Prescott to do the same. It may be an easy way to extract money from some or dangle a carrot of promise to promoters and employment beneficiaries, but that doesn't make it right.

Tourists do more than represent an economic opportunity for local businesses; they are our guests, and we should treat them as such. Whether government official or bureaucrat, they depend on increased tax opportunities while the business community depends on customer satisfaction including total cost of services.

The Prescott Area Coalition for Tourism is trying to promote the area with severely limited resources. It does an admirable job with what it has to work with, but it's not enough. In a market where communities spend millions, this region needs commitment from the entire community.

It appears that sales tax proceeds from tourists, hotels and motels and now maybe the hospitality industry will remain the major contributors for promoting area tourism through extra taxation on their customers. That's unfair.

The Prescott City Council policy of splitting the bed tax with Parks and Recreation on a nearly even basis is shortsighted. I contend that the Prescott Area Lodging Association (P.A.L.A.) should have oversight on 100 percent of the city's bed tax revenue, because they are the only current contributor.

Even more financial support for regional tourism promotion needs to come from Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Yavapai County and the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe for the Prescott Area Coalition for Tourism to be competitive in the market. I support identifying an approach based on equitability. I am not advocating elimination of Prescott's bed tax; I am, however, suggesting everybody contribute.

The business community, through varied membership classifications in the Prescott Area Lodging Association, the Chambers of Commerce, real estate and contractor associations, the Prescott Downtown Partnership, etc., could advance tourism-related infrastructure and local business promotion more rapidly.

It's possible to develop dues structured around business classification, benefit and potential impact from tourism for all regional business organizations that would advance tourism promotion.

The extent of financial participation in the Prescott Area Coalition for Tourism would govern qualifications for board membership and the voice in policy decisions.

For example, individual chambers of commerce, PALA, the Fair Association, Frontier Days, the Rodeo Association, business associations, casinos, etc., all should be major contributors. In an area-wide representative organization such as PACT, "Pay to play comes to mind," and the organization should promote its membership contributors.

Such a structure would command private sector oversight on expenditures and operational costs, etc., and possibly elevate its effectiveness.

(Jim Lamerson, a downtown Prescott businessman, is active in civic and ecnomic affairs.)

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