Refunds going out for Epic Pass upgrades
By Katherine Nettles
With the recent Vail Resorts acquisition of Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), the future of one major aspect of admissions tax revenue for the town of Mt. Crested Butte is now unclear.
Many people who purchased a local Crested Butte Peak Pass earlier in the year upgraded to an Epic Local or Epic Pass after the Vail Resorts purchase went through, and those who did so received a refund for their previously charged admission tax.
The 4 percent admission tax, sometimes also referred to as a “lift ticket tax” but also including any event that enters or ends in Mt. Crested Butte, generated $840,000 in 2017 and has budgeted for the same numbers in 2018 and 2019. The Town Council awarded $571,917 of that in grants to local organizations for event marketing and promotions. One quarter of the funds is allocated to transit, namely Mountain Express.
The admission tax has a history of controversy with Vail Resorts and with other resort owners who have resisted the tax on the premise that it is unfair to target the sales of only one individual company among a whole town.
When Vail Resorts purchased Park City, Utah, in 2014, the question of how sales tax revenue from Epic Pass sales would be allocated came up as well, according to various news reports. It was ultimately decided that sales tax distributions would be based on where an activity, such as a skier visit, took place, regardless of where the sale took place.
When Breckenridge decided to pursue a “lift ticket tax” in 2015, Vail Resorts vehemently opposed the proposal initially, as covered by several media outlets. After a month-long negotiation, the resort came to an agreement with the town that it would not file lawsuits or campaign against the tax as a ballot measure if season passes, multi-resort tickets and summer activities were excluded. The town of Breckenridge proceeded to vote the 4.5 percent tax in, with record high voter approval.
“Admissions tax is part of our conversations with Vail, we just haven’t nailed down how it will be handled yet. We’re not the only ski town that has an admissions tax so they’ve dealt with this before,” said Mt. Crested Butte finance officer Karl Trujillo via e-mail.
Johnna Muscente, director of communications for Vail Resorts, released a statement on behalf of the resort: “Vail Resorts will be remitting the admission tax on Epic Pass revenue throughout the winter season as the revenue is recognized. As permitted by town code, the company is refunding the admission tax for any pass usable only at Crested Butte Mountain Resort that has been exchanged for the Epic Pass.”
A significant portion of the admission tax revenue is expected to come from lift ticket sales, which include walk-up ticket window sales, online sales and season pass sales. The town council touched on the uncertainty of how the resort will handle Epic Pass admissions taxes on a local basis, in light of the refund, during its November 6 meeting.
“How do we divvy it up among the Epic Pass users? Maybe we can force their hand to share skier days with us,” said councilmember Roman Kolodziej.
“They did get some numbers before the old guys left,” Trujillo replied.
Mayor Todd Barnes spoke of the role the overall admissions tax revenue has had for the town. “Vail does their own marketing, and they aren’t going to give money to the little guys. But we can. So that’s what this is for,” he said.
When asked how many pass holders who formerly purchased the Peak Pass have now upgraded and received an admissions tax refund, Muscente responded, “As a publicly traded company, unfortunately we cannot disclose those exact numbers.”
Kolodziej brought the issue up a second time at the November 20 council meeting and town manager Joe Fitzpatrick responded that he has a meeting scheduled with general manager Tim Baker later this month. “We have to wait until the lifts get turning and they need a little more room to make their operation run. I’m very optimistic its going to come out well. “ said Fitzpatrick.
“I have a question as it pertains to how sales tax is collected where the service takes place, and if that’s part of the conversation where the pass is sold elsewhere but then it’s realized here.”
“It has to be,” said Fitzpatrick.
“But then there’s sharing of numbers,” said Kolodziej.
“It’s complicated,” concluded Fitzpatrick.
“It’s part of the confusion of where we’re at,” agreed Barnes.
“We are not the only resort that is facing the issue. And they’ve worked it out with other resorts,” said Fitzpatrick.
Chris Larson, manager of Mountain Express, said that as Mountain Express receives approximately $200,000 a year from the tax, “We are aware of the refunds and how it might impact Mountain Express…We are waiting to hear of any news coming out of those meetings.”
The tax program at CBMR has been in effect since 2002. Other Colorado resort areas with an admission or ski ticket tax include Vail and Snowmass, and several others can be found across the United States, including Minnesota, Utah and Michigan.