(Westerly file photo)

Resorts in Tofino butt heads with district over diverting tourism tax

Tofino has explored the idea of using tourist tax dollars to pay for wastewater treatment facility

Tofino’s resorts are butting heads with the town’s local government over the idea of using tourists’ tax dollars on a wastewater treatment plant.

The Municipal And Regional District Tax is a 3 per cent fee added to the hotel room bill of tourists staying at Tofino’s fixed-roof accommodation providers. The funds generated by this tax have historically been earmarked for promotional materials by the town’s destination marketing organization, Tourism Tofino, though the provincial government added affordable housing projects to the list of permissible uses in 2018.

A letter signed by a group of Tofino accommodation providers suggests the district office has been investigating whether MRDT money could be put towards a proposed wastewater treatment plant. Tofino is the only municipality left on Vancouver Island that currently does not treat its sewage and has already passed a Dec. 31, 2020, deadline to do so.

READ MORE: Tofino hopes to break ground on sewage treatment plant this fall

The district received $40 million from the provincial and federal governments in 2019 to put towards a wastewater treatment plant, but has been sniffing out other funding opportunities since learning that the $54 million its consultants had estimated a plant would cost was underestimated by roughly $30 million last year. One of the funding sources the district has been investigating is the MRDT, but local accommodation providers are voicing their concern about that idea, suggesting marketing the town to potential tourists is a vital pursuit.

“The undersigned accommodations have significant concerns that the District of Tofino began lobbying the Province to use MRDT (Hotel Tax) funds for the Waste Water Treatment Plant as early as the fall 2019, without any prior and structured consultation with resort owners and operators that collect and remit this tax,” reads a letter signed by Crystal Cove Beach Resort, Long Beach Lodge, Pacific Sands Beach Resort, Tofino Resort and Marina, Best Western Tin Wis Resort, Stay Tofino, The Wickaninnish Inn, Middle Beach Lodge and Cox Bay Beach Resort.

“Destination marketing and visitor services have and continue to play a critical role in the success of Tofino’s visitor economy. The full impact of the pandemic on tourism is still unknown and so these activities are more important than ever, particularly in what is expected to be a super-heated, post pandemic environment until 2024.”

READ MORE: Tourism Tofino says town’s visitation generates $240 million annually

The letter, dated March 22, was reviewed by council during April 13’s regular meeting and the district’s chief administrative officer Bob MacPherson suggested “the sentiments” were unexpected.He explained the idea of using MRDT funding towards the wastewater treatment plant was raised in 2019, but was presented to the province by a Tofino resident and not the district office and the district has been doing catch-up.

“It appears that doing something like this is technically possible, although outside of what’s strictly allowed with the MRDT,” he said. “We want to be clear that no lobbying has occurred, but we’ve asked questions about how this can happen…We’re trying to understand the issue a little bit better.”

He noted the province has made 12 official exceptions to MRDT spending in the past, including locally when it permitted Tourism Tofino to use MRDT funds to build a new Cox Bay Visitor Information Centre.

READ MORE: Tofino officially opens new $2M visitor centre at Cox Bay


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