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Washakie County Tourism Board seeks renewal of lodging tax

WORLAND – First enacted in 1990, Washakie County’s optional lodging tax will once again appear on the ballot Tuesday.

The tax is voted on every four years and has been approved every cycle since its introduction, most recently receiving a 75.87% vote in favor of it in 2018. Washakie County Tourism Board Vice-Chairman George Sheaff said “I’ve served three terms on the board, and I feel pretty good about what we’ve done in totality, and I think that’s reflected in the voter approval.”

The Washakie County lodging tax collects 4% of payments made to services that rent out rooms. Washakie County Tourism Board manages the funds, using them to market and grow the desirability of the county as a tourist destination.

The tourism board is a small group of volunteers that aims to make decisions that benefit our community. Board member Chloe Stine said “Heads in beds is our game, and our main goal is to be a small destination marketing organization for Washakie County.”

This will be the first time the county lodging tax will be voted on since the introduction of the statewide 5% lodging tax in 2020. Three of this 5% will be handled at the state level by the Wyoming Office of Tourism, and the remaining 2% will go to the respective entity at the county level. Lodging taxes are not to exceed 7%, so Washakie County, which previous voted on a 4% lodging tax will be voting on just 2%. Washakie County Visitor Council will still receive 4% lodging tax revenue, 2 from the state tax and 2 from the local tax if approved by voters on Tuesday.

About 50% of funds are spent on marketing across social media, billboards, brochures and the like, a percentage goes towards accounting, and some goes towards grants that help fund events in the community: including the Wyoming State BBQ Championship and Bluegrass Festival, Indigenous Peoples Day, and the Ten Sleep Rodeo. The tourism board also makes cooperative efforts with the Wyoming Office of Tourism to further promote local events across the state.

Sheaff said “We have a fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers, and we take that very seriously.”

Stine and Sheaff recognize the lack of infrastructure as a challenge to tourism; there are limited recreation and lodging facilities for travelers across Washakie County. They are hopeful that newly renovated motels in Worland, along with increased interest in travel following the coronavirus pandemic, will benefit the industry in the future. Bed & breakfasts in the county are also encouraged to contact the tourism board for marketing assistance.

The county received $125,850 in leisure & hospitality revenue in the last year, a significant portion of which came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Stine says she hopes this number can reach $100,000 in the fiscal year of 2022-2023 with the absence of relief funding.

To learn more about visitor resources, visit Washakie Museum & Cultural Center, the official visitor center for Washakie County.

To learn more about tourism and events, you can find the Washakie County Tourism Board online at bighornmountaincountry.com or on Facebook. They also host monthly meetings open to the public, the next being noon, Dec. 14 at the library.