Bigfork Institutes ‘Contribution’ to Improve, Market Town

By Beacon Staff

In an effort to raise money to enhance and promote Bigfork, business owners are launching a program that adds a 1 percent voluntary charge on sales.

As of June 1, several businesses in Bigfork will institute the “Bigfork Enhancement Contribution,” a voluntary 1 percent assessment added to shoppers’ bills. Money raised by the program will be used for improvement projects and to promote and advertise the Bigfork community.

“Our goal is to strengthen the look and feel of the community, strengthen our summer business and then especially look at ways to increase business during the seven off-season months,” Bigfork resident John Lang said.

Lang is part of a local committee that was originally investigating the feasibility of instituting a resort tax in Bigfork. Earlier this year, however, the group decided that was impossible until state statutes governing the creation of a resort tax district were changed.

Instead, the committee moved its attention to the assessment, a more workable way of raising money for the unincorporated town.

Unlike a resort tax, the assessment is totally voluntary. Businesses can choose to participate in one of two ways, adding the 1 percent charge on customers’ bills or making a $250 donation. While the charge is particularly aimed at hospitality businesses like lodging, restaurants and retail, any business can participate.

Since it is voluntary, customers can also decline paying the 1 percent assessment.

“If residents wanted it taken off their bill all they would have to do is ask,” Cheryl Richmond, the committee’s head, said, “but I doubt tourists, who are usually used to paying a lot more in sales tax where they live, will even notice.”

A committee comprised of business owners representing tourism-related industries will handle the money collected, putting it toward everything from physical improvement projects to advertising efforts.

At meeting with business owners in early May, Lang said the idea received a largely positive response. Several business owners have already signed on to begin in June, either with an assessment or contribution, and Lang said the group hopes to add people on a rolling basis throughout the summer.

“Our goal for this year is two-fold,” he said. “To get business owners comfortable with participating in the program, and trying to raise at least $25,000.”

In Whitefish, a similar 1 percent assessment, which they call a Tourism Promotion Assessment, has already proved beneficial. Money there has been spent on advertising and a public relations firm, which has helped get the town publicity in national outlets.

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