Santa Clara officials, residents discuss implications of 0.25% sales tax on tourism, public transit

File photo of SunTran bus, St. George, Utah, Feb. 13, 2018 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office plans to divvy out revenue from a new sales tax to county municipalities for tourism and public transit needs, the implications of which were recently discussed by elected officials and residents in Santa Clara.

During a Santa Clara City Council meeting June 25, members of the council said the city is expecting to receive roughly $98,000 for transportation-related projects as a result of a 0.25% sales tax on fuel recently passed by the Washington County Commission.

“At the end of the day, this is great for our city,” Santa Clara Councilman Ben Shakespeare said. “It’s great for the whole community.”

The Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office will be working with the Utah Department of Transportation on the St. George to Springdale transit route the entity announced last May. The office plans to combine a portion of the funds from the sales tax on fuel and a $15 million grant from UDOT to complete the route.

Santa Clara City Mayor Rick Rosenberg said the Washington County Commissioners have proposed that funds generated from the quarter-percent tax go through the Washington County Council of Governments, which comprises mayors from municipalities across the county. The money allocated to Santa Clara will sit with the county until the city decides to implement a mass transit system. 

Read more: Washington County adopts quarter-percent sales tax for road, transit funding

The county receives 60% of the sales tax revenue where there is no public transit service. The broader breakdown of the revenue raised by the quarter-percent sales tax includes 20% to the county, 40% to municipalities and 40% to the municipalities where public transit systems currently exist, like St. George and Ivins.

Rosenberg said he is mostly concerned with ensuring that Santa Clara has access to the funds when it comes time to implement a public transit system of its own.

The Council of Governments is proposing that the 60% of funds allocated to the county from municipalities without public transit systems be used to fund transit from St. George to Springdale, with stops in Hurricane and Washington. 

According to the mayor, the county has not decided if the transit route between St. George and Springdale will be public or private.

Running the transit will be a $3 million per year commitment, Shakespeare said, and one of the “big private players” told the councilman he believes a private shuttle can be profitable in five years. 

Stock image of Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah, St. George News

He said he doesn’t believe that can happen with public transit. Shakespeare said he would like Washington County to put plans together to be “as efficient and as lean as possible to where this can succeed.”

Greater Zion and tourism

Some area residents have expressed fear about how the increased focus on tourism is going to have adverse effects on local residents and how it might limit their enjoyment of the area.

“I’ve lived here for 15 years, and I don’t enjoy going to Zion anymore because there are so many outside people coming,” Santa Clara resident Gary Allred said. 

Allred asked the council to  “give local residents a little more of an advantage to enjoy local resources” and said he is “a perfect example” of people he meets everyday “that are very sad to see they don’t enjoy going to their own backyard because there are so many outside people there.”

Shakespeare said the new marketing plan was created in part to help residents enjoy the area, explaining that the efforts of the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office will help spread tourists and money to municipalities like Santa Clara that wouldn’t necessarily see any benefits from the popularity of Zion National Park.

Washington County wants people to come to the area, shop in the stores and eat at the restaurants because tourists bring a stronger economic base with them, Shakespeare said, but “we don’t want them to love Zion National Park to death.”

A picture of the new logo for the newly rebranded Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office | Photo courtesy of Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office, St. George News

Shakespeare said the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office hopes to disperse tourists throughout the county, which might bring the number of people going to Zion National Park down while increasing the number of tourists overall — a move that is expected to economically benefit residents in a “huge” way.

“They’re not marketing the big five anymore,” Shakespeare said. “They’re marketing the ‘greater Zion,’ and that includes Santa Clara.” 

Allred said he’s heard about the economic benefits but is more concerned with access, explaining that spreading people out does not help the problem because “the more people you have here, the less accessible it is for the residents.”

According to Shakespeare, these plans are in the preliminary stages, and he said he is sure more information will come out as the project moves forward.

The Washington County Convention and Tourism Office announced its rebrand to the Greater Zion Convention and Tourism Office during a launch and presentation May 23. The new campaign for destination markets began July 1.

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