Who really pays the bills in Page?
One of America’s favorite pastimes is complaining about the government and calling officials, including the ones they elected, crooks and scoundrels. It happens at all levels – federal, state and local.
Page is no exception, and lately, there’s been an uptick in accusations on social media platforms and in local rumor mills. People want to know where their tax money is going.
A search for “Where’s my tax money going?” in Google returns about 1.5 billion results. For Page residents and amateur sleuths interested in local expenditures, the city’s website is eye-opening. The city’s finances are surprisingly transparent. Site visitors can even browse through city’s checkbook. With a bit of basic number crunching, it becomes clear most of the city’s expenses and improvement projects are paid for by other peoples’ money: grants and tourists.
Hotels alone contributed over $4.5 million in sales tax revenue for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2023. In a single month, July 2023, restaurants and bars added nearly $300,000 in sales tax to the city’s general fund. In all, the city collected over $15 million in sales tax for the year. To match tourist contributions, each household in Page would need to spend over $150,000 a year at local businesses. The average household income in Page is around $50,000.
“A community like Page, it cannot survive without its tourism,” said Page Mayor Bill Diak. “We have no property sales tax in the city of Page. So everything is based on that sales tax revenue that runs our cities, paves our streets, keeps our lights on, keeps water in the pipes. Something has to pay for that. So it is our sales tax.”
The Chronicle spoke with Judy Franz, the energetic Executive Director of Page-Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce and The Page-Lake Powell Hub. The Hub is the town’s visitor center. In addition to recommending sights, shops and dining spots, it helps visitors make reservations, book tours and learn about the area.
“Well, Bill Diak is 100% right,” Franz said, responding to Diak’s quote.
“Just in my little shop over here, we had 1,262 internationals for September, and then we had 924 domestics, so we had 2,186 people. We have seen a trend in the last couple of months. The internationals are traveling here, and they’re staying in hotels, they’re eating in the restaurants, they're shopping in the stores, they're taking tours. We're seeing them in here, but we're seeing probably more internationals than we are the domestics. But again, I think we're definitely relying on having them here. That sales tax that you went and bought your dinner, you went and bought your lunch, you went to Safeway and you purchased groceries, all that money goes back into the city. Every bit of it.”
For retail, groceries and restaurants, it’s difficult to separate how much residents spend and how much visitors spend. Getting an accurate number is further complicated by neighboring communities shopping in Page.
Franz is confident that the bulk of city’s sales tax revenue comes from tourism.
“I'd go as high as saying 75% is the people that are staying here because they’ve got to eat,” she said. “So even though you might have some eating in their hotel rooms, we’ve all seen them in Walmart, we've seen them in Safeway. They buy their groceries, but I still think we’ve got a tremendous amount of them eating out.”
Another recent trend Franz noticed is Page has more visitors year-round. “We don't really have a downtime like we used to,” she said. “Used to be October to about March, this town rolled up [the streets]. That’s not happening anymore.”
While hotels and restaurants are the largest contributors to Page’s tourism economy, all businesses and their employees benefit directly and indirectly. Visitors are buying gifts and memorabilia. They’re getting vehicles or campers repaired. They’re taking tours. They’re buying groceries, hardware and health products.
“People need to realize it’s not just the norm, which would be the restaurants, the hotels,” said Franz. “You're also looking at the small little shops and things that people go into, or they get their vehicle fixed because something broke down here. They’re dropping some money, and then those people in turn are paying sales tax back out into the community.”
Mayor Diak summed it up best: “We're lucky enough that as a tourism community we have a lot of extra sales tax revenue that helps us support that because with just the citizens in Page we could not support the type of infrastructure that we need.”