City leaders outline support for local option sales tax


MISSOULA, Mont. - Some local governments are already outlining their priorities for the 2015 legislative session.

In Kalispell, one priority is to support a local option sales tax.

Some Montana towns already have a resort tax. It applies to towns with a population under 5,500 people, but a high number of tourists.

The money goes back into managing the wear and tear on local infrastructure. Big Sky, Whitefish and West Yellowstone all have resort taxes. Now some want the legislature to allow larger cities in on it.

A version of this issue comes up in nearly every legislative session, and in the past it's something several city leaders support.

"We'd like the state to reconsider giving local governments the option of a sales tax," said Kalispell City Attorney Charlie Harball.

Kalispell city officials likely won't be alone. In the past, Missoula and Bozeman leaders have supported the same idea -- to let voters in the individual cities decide to levy a local sales tax on specified items and services.

In 2009 a bill proposed a 4 percent charge on lodging facilities and campgrounds, prepared meals, alcohol sold by the drink or bottle for on-site consumption and vehicle rentals. The tax would have also applied to recreation equipment rentals, guided recreation like fishing and admission to water slides and amusement parks.

The bill didn't pass. A local option sales tax has been in front of legislators nearly every session from 1981 until 2009. But no law has ever been created.

Some think 2015 could be the year.

"Each time we think it's getting a little closer and a little closer. But it is something that we think the local communities, the towns and cities would like to approach the state about. To say at least give us the option," Harball said.

But with a failing record in the past, it will take ample support from lawmakers.

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