Pawhuska council moves in direction of lodging tax election

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Pawhuska City Council voted 4-1 in a special meeting last week to have City Attorney John Heskett prepare a resolution that, if adopted, would place on the ballot a public vote regarding a 5 percent lodging tax. Councilor Jourdan Foran cast the lone "no" vote.

Councilor Steve Tolson reminded his colleagues that he had asked them to seek public input on the issue. Foran and Councilor John Brazee said there was public interest in the proceeds of any municipal lodging tax being used to address needs within the city.

Asked for her view, Osage County Tourism Director Kelly Bland reminded the council that 5 cents of additional tax on every dollar spent on commercial lodging services in the city would bring the total tax to nearly 20 percent.

"My only concern at all is it would put us at that 18 percent total tax," Bland said. She added that she did not, however, want the city to be denied revenue that it deemed necessary.

Michelle Loftis, who operates several bed-and-bath establishments in Pawhuska, expressed concern about the possibility of a new 5 percent lodging tax. She commented that her establishments had lost business because of additional charges that had to be tacked onto routine lodging and property cleaning charges. Loftis said the current taxation level, prior to anything the city of Pawhuska may levy, is 13.75 percent.

"We are losing some things because of that already," Loftis said.

She added that she thought city government could do more to keep weeds trimmed and garbage picked up, so that Pawhuska would be more appealing to potential visitors. "I work my tail off, trying to make things appealing in my business."

Loftis said she thought it would be nice for the bed-and-bath sector of the local economy to receive more support from city government.

Foran engaged Loftis in a brief discussion of what additional city government support for bed-and-bath businesses would look like, and Foran argued that the lodging tax would help to finance some of the very services that Loftis would like the city to offer.

"It costs to bring our guys out on a Saturday and pick up the trash," Foran said. She also argued that responsibility for keeping Pawhuska clean goes well beyond services provided by local government.

"Let's have a competition for the trash cleanup," Foran said.

Another activity Foran mentioned was that city government had actively been addressing the problem of blighted properties, with scores of properties having been cleared because of the efforts of municipal code officer Steve Hughes.

Heskett said he could have an ordinance ready for consideration in October that would, if adopted, set a special election on the tax question.

Mayor Roger Taylor observed that, if the council moves ahead, the question will ultimately be decided by the citizenry.

"It can always be turned down by the voters, or passed," Taylor said.

Foran said in a later telephone interview that she voted "no" because she thought an overall lodging tax rate of 18.75 percent would be high for a town the size of Pawhuska, and she wanted more information. Foran said she thought city officials would need to be especially good stewards of any funds generated by a lodging tax. She said that she had done research since the council meeting, and had spoken further with Loftis and Bland.