Council may embed 'bed tax' in rates

GRANT BRYANT AND SARAH LAMONT IN QUEENSTOWN
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2012

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The Queenstown Lakes District Council is planning a bed tax. But it won't be called that.

The council is discussing embedding a quasi bed tax into its long term plan district plan by gearing targeted rates payments to reap "costs associated with visitors".

As a tourist haven Queenstown hosts 2.8 million visitors a year, but as a district only it has a base of about 22,000 ratepayers.

A rates and funding review started in June last year focused on how rates were allocated and who pays what share.

A mooted solution to recovering tourist costs associated with upkeep on parks, reserves, trails, walkways, public toilets and events is designed to contribute around 50 cents a day from each visitor, and could be harvested from businesses that benefit from tourism.

The plan was revealed in a council press release last week. But councillor and top-level council staff comments during a full council meeting held in Wanaka yesterday indicated the council was already receiving money to cover costs associated with visitors, which, if the visitor tax became active, could eventually reach $1.60 to $2 per visitor per day.

The intent now is to explicitly calculate how to arrange differential charges so that they have the same effect as a bed tax – something the Government is reluctant to allow the council to impose.

The council's finance manager and deputy CEO Stewart Burns said roading and regulatory rates had been geared towards contributing to costs associated with visitors since 2006.

"There's been a lot of publicity on the 50 cent rate," he said.

"But the roading rate methodology hasn't changed since 2006. We're looking at recovering costs by having (rates) differentials on accommodation properties, which reflects the impact of visitors. The roading rate partially recovers the cost of the impact of heavy vehicles, in particular the coaches and buses that service guided tours – which have a huge impact on our roads because the impact of a fully laden tour bus is hundreds and hundreds times more than a car on a road's [longevity]."

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