The Summit County Council is weighing how to dole out $3m amid economic uncertainty
In normal years, the Restaurant Tax Advisory Committee is charged with evaluating dozens of applications for grants totaling millions of dollars to fund projects that will entice people to visit Summit County.
Last year, for example, the money helped fund the Park City Kimball Arts Festival, the Autumn Aloft hot-air balloon festival and the Oakley Rodeo.
This year, the pool of sales tax revenue amounted to nearly $3 million, the most ever. But in a time of economic uncertainty, the County Council, which has final say over the money, is rethinking how to dole out the funds. The council last Wednesday put off a decision on how the money will be spent, instead deciding to reevaluate the 47 applications in light of the pandemic.
Officials said one option is to hold the money over until next year.
“We know beyond a doubt that next year’s funding is going to be slimmer,” Chair Doug Clyde said. “We don’t know how much slimmer at this point, but we know that it’s going to be slimmer.”
The largest recommended expenditure was $419,560 to the Park City Area Restaurant Association for a marketing campaign, followed by $400,000 for the Park City Lodging Delta Fly Free promotion, $325,000 for the Park City Chamber/Bureau’s spring marketing campaign and $225,000 to the Sundance Institute to promote the Sundance Film Festival.
Councilor Kim Carson said the only program that raised a red flag was the Delta promotion, which draws people from out of state to fly to Utah and visit Summit County during the ski season by offsetting airline ticket prices in the slower months of December, March and April. The county has contributed more than $1.3 million in restaurant tax money to the campaign since 2016. Last year, officials approved $400,000 for the program but requested information about whether the program attracted first-time visitors.
Carson said she was troubled by the broad area the program targets and later in the meeting said visitors who had flown to the area and become sick might not be able to fly home.
This year, councilors had directed the committee to favor operating funds over capital expenses like building projects. The committee decided not to recommend funding a $344,000 Trailside Park parking lot expansion, for example, nor did it opt to support a $265,000 piece of grooming machinery to be used in Round Valley.
But some capital expenses made the cut, like $50,000 for a covered stage for the Francis Frontier Days and $50,000 for a dual slalom course and pump track at the Trailside bike park. And the recommendations include $155,973 for an “interactive winter wonderland experience (involving) 10-12 customized snow globes placed throughout historic Park City.”
The committee also recommended funding county events like Park City’s 4th of July parade, the Park City Kimball Arts Festival, a Coalville summer celebration, Francis Frontier Days and the Oakley Rodeo and car show.
It also supported allotting money for events that have since been canceled, including the Utah Symphony and Opera concerts at Deer Valley Resort, the Tour of Utah bicycle race and the demolition derby at the Summit County Fair.
The then-Summit County Commission in 1991 instituted a 1% sales tax on purchases at restaurants that funds the program. This year, 47 applications sought $4.9 million from a pool of $2.9 million, $200,000 more than last year’s total.
Councilor Chris Robinson said reviewing the committee’s proposals highlighted the strangeness of the times.
“It reminded me of all the things that we’ve taken for granted that we would be wanting to promote in a normal year, but now almost every one of them raises a question mark in my mind,” Robinson said. “I think that in a lot of our discussions, we’re concerned about the very things that are being promoted.”
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Sales-tax collections in Park City in July beat City Hall projections by a wide margin, providing a key data point that illustrates a nascent economic comeback of sorts from the spring business shutdowns.