As one of the original members of the Door County Tourism Zone Commission, I must express my dismay at the article “Can Room Tax Support Our State Parks?” by Jackson Parr in the Feb. 24 issue of the Pulse. It is imperative to realize the success of the current room tax ordinance in Door County, for it has far exceeded our expectations. The room tax is now 10 years old. In the early 2000s tourism was declining in Door County. Lodging properties were getting torn down and replaced with condos. This switch from transient visitors (who eat in restaurants, shop in shops, and go to the theater) to seasonal visitors (who pay property tax to support services and infrastructure) was causing a decline not only in lodging, but in all other segments as well. Northern Door County’s economy depends on tourism, and it was not healthy.
The key to this problem was the lack of a budget to advertise and promote the County. Before the room tax the total marketing budget was about $235,000 per year. With the room tax, that budget is now $2,900,000. Additionally, the Chamber of Commerce was relaunched as the Door County Visitor Bureau with new staff and new direction. Has this worked? Emphatically Yes! Over the term of the room tax lodging sales have grown by 49.9 percent (DCVB website), and this growth is driven by occupancy and rate. The room tax also funded over $1,000,000 per year in municipal discretionary funding. Shops are filled. New lodging properties are being built, old ones are re-opened, and the restaurant business is growing rapidly. Why? Tourists know about Door County.
The total room tax collected last year was $4,500,000, and anytime there is a pot of money that large in a community this small some organizations are going to try to get a piece of it. The critical issue here is that the current formula works, and we must stay true to our mission (and state statute) and use the 70 percent of the funds to promote tourism. I take exception to Mr. Parr’s sentence, “But even if the commission cannot or will not spend some of its funds directly on tourism development, such as fiscal support of state parks…” as it totally ignores that 100 percent of the funding is spent on tourism development.
I understand the importance of state parks to Door County tourism, and that these parks are the anchor stores in our mall. But the reduction of funding by a state government who wishes to spend $500,000,000 to build a basketball arena in Milwaukee should not deter us from our mission, which is to use our tax dollars that we have collected through our organization and marketed with our visitor bureau to make our economy grow.
The room tax is a community success. It feeds itself. It gives us jobs, income, playground equipment, festivals, and even fire trucks. Leave it as is, let your representatives be accountable for their mistakes, and we will continue to make our lives better with this elegant solution.
Fish Creek, Wis.