COLUMBIA FALLS — Columbia Falls residents approved a 3% resort tax in June of 2020 to generate additional funds for infrastructure and emergency services.
While that tax was put on hold for a year due to COVID-19, city officials said they are encouraged by first-quarter results after the tax took effect last October.
“October through December was stronger than originally predicted,” Columbia Falls City Manager Susan Nicosia told MTN News.
$100,000 in resort tax revenue is how much income Nicosia said the city collected in the first three months since inception.
“Looking at October through December — not knowing what January through March comes — but conceivably we could have $500,000 to $600,000 in collections,” added Nicosia.
Nicosia said that number is higher than the original prediction of $450,000 annually in collections based on previous Department of Revenue tax numbers.
She said business and population growth are leading to increased revenue.
“We have some additional restaurants, hotel use is strong as well as retail, retail is higher than we had anticipated based on what we were taxing,” said Nicosia.
She said the resort tax only applies to luxury items, not essential services with 55% of tax funds going toward public safety needs.
“We need paid firemen. We need to start bringing on paid firemen, particularly during the day because we have a little bit of a gap,” Nicosia explained.
Columbia Falls Fire Chief Karl Weeks said call volume has increased 20% from the previous year.
With only one paid position and 29 volunteers, Weeks said full-time staff members are needed to better serve the community.
“Twenty nine current volunteers do a fantastic job but daytime calls when they’re at work and stuff is more challenging so, that’s where the new paid people will assist and respond to those daytime calls,” said Weeks.
Nicosia said hiring paid firefighters would not be possible without resort tax revenue.
She said the city plans to hire two new firefighters after third-quarter collections.
“These are the goals, these are the needs and how are we going to get there, so absolutely, two firemen come July 1st,” added Nicosia.