Boult says ‘vote!’

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Announcement: Mayor Jim Boult, flanked by council boss Mike Theelen, announces the visitor levy referendum

Queenstowners have a “one-off opportunity” to back a visitor levy, mayor Jim Boult says.

With voting papers for a non-binding referendum on the issue hitting our letter boxes from Tuesday, Boult’s worried some might think it’s a done deal and not bother voting.

The referendum – which closes on June 5 – only needs 50 per cent-plus approval to be passed up to the government for consideration.

But he wants “very strong” support and a high turnout.

He would rather see 55 per cent approval from a 90 per cent turnout than 80 per cent support from half of eligible voters, he says.

If it doesn’t get the tick – first locally and then from Wellington – rates will have to be hiked, he says.

“The other pathway is simply for us to slow investment in in-frastructure and suffer the consequences of that through further congestion and failing infrastructure, which I don’t think is anything that our visitors or our residents would find acceptable.”

Set at 5 per cent, the levy would apply to all accommodation providers – including peer-to-peer platforms like Airbnb – and raise an estimated $22.5 million a year at current visitor numbers.

It would apply to the cost of a room per night, not the number of people staying in it.

Boult’s shrugging off accusations the council hasn’t commissioned an economic analysis of a levy’s potential impact on visitor numbers, claiming wide international experience shows it’ll be negligible.

New hotels under construction in the district show the accommodation sector’s confident about the future.

“If people genuinely thought a small increase in accommodation fees would have visitors running off to stay in Gore or Cromwell, we probably wouldn’t have seen the steady increase in room charges over the last three years whilst retaining exceptionally high occupancy rates.”

The council reckons a 5 per cent levy will fund all the district’s visitor-related capital costs, and about a third of the operational costs.

Finance boss Stewart Burns says the new money will “open up choices”, allowing the council to bring projects forward and divert loan funding into alternative ones.

It’ll also enable it to review the “very high” rates differential accommodation providers are paying at the moment, he says.

The papers give a simple choice:

– I SUPPORT the introduction of a visitor levy as an additional charge on short-term accommodation throughout the district.

– I OPPOSE the introduction of a visitor levy as an additional charge on short-term accommodation through-out the district.

Voters are even given instructions. Step 1: Vote. Step 2: Pack [put it in an envelope]. Step 3. Deliver [either to council offices in Queenstown or Wanaka or by post].

The papers are accompanied by four pages of information on the levy, detailing the council’s perception of the situation in Queenstown and what needs to be spent over the next decade, the proposed levy and how it will be applied, some detail on collection, and what it will be invested in.

It could be in place by the financial year beginning July 2021.

guy.williams@scene.co.nz