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County collects a comparatively paltry share of tourism tax dollars

Rebecca and Kane spent a “lovely” weekend in Prince Edward County. The Mississauga couple had never been to the County before—but had heard the “buzz” and decided discover it for themselves. The couple toured several wineries—bought a few bottles at one—a case at another. They bought cheese, groceries, some momentos and dined at both East and Main Bistro and Pomodoro.

They told their innkeepers it was one of their favourite getaway weekends ever—that they would “be back soon.”

Rebecca and Kane are among those helping to drive tourism in the County—an industry that last year contributed $44.7 million in gross domestic product to this community. According to new data compiled by Regional Tourism Ontario District 9 (RTO9) Prince Edward County drew 9.1 per cent more visitors in 2010 compared with the year earlier—a much larger increase than any other area in the region that stretches eastward along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence to the Quebec border.

Between 2006 and 2009 the number of visitors to the County increased 30 per cent. The County also attracts the highest number of overnight visitors—15 per cent stay for at a week or more. Sandbanks Provincial Park has traditionally been a key driver of the longer duration visitor—but that is clearly changing. Sandbanks saw just a three per cent increase in visitors between 2006 and 2009. It is clear growth in longer duration visits is being propelled by a growing weekly offering of cottages, inns, hotels, and bed and breakfast accommodation.

BAD DIVISION
The numbers reveal however a massive discrepancy over which government reaps the greatest tax haul of this growing bounty. According to these statistics produced by RTO9, County tourism delivers $13.5 million in taxes to the federal government and $10.2 million to the province. The municipality, however, takes in less than $100,000 each year from County tourism.

The numbers reveal, however, a massive discrepancy over which government reaps the greatest tax haul of this growing bounty. According to these statistics produced by RTO9, County tourism delivers $13.5 million in taxes to the federal government and $10.2 million to the province. The municipality, however, takes in less than $100,000 each year from this industry. Yet it is the municipality that funds the roads, bridges, police, ambulance and various other infrastructure and services needed to serve these visitors and keep them safe.

“There is a totally disproportionate amount of tax going to the federal and provincial government,” said Richard Johnston, president of RTO9 and principal in By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery near Wellington. “The people, however, bearing the brunt of infrastructure support are getting next to nothing.”

Johnston suggests the municipality press the senior levels of government for a 10 per cent flow back of the taxes they generate from tourism in Prince Edward County. He argues that by helping to support tourism infrastructure in municipalities like the County, they might drive even greater tax windfall.

“It’s a huge missed opportunity,” said Johnston. “Council should urge the province and the feds to a couple million back each year, from the $23 million they collect here, to invest in the place.

But Mayor Peter Mertens is doubtful either level of government is likely to agree to give up a share of its tax haul from the County without a fight. He is looking for other municipalities to help make the case together.

“We knew the senior levels of government were doing better than we were,” said Mertens. “But it hasn’t been quantified before. Now we can make the case, based on data, that it is only fair that the federal and provincial governments send some of the money collected here back here to support this industry.”

Johnston notes that while the municipality may not get its far share of tax revenues, tourism is an important and growing driver of the County economy—supporting more than 800 direct jobs. Direct labour income from tourism in Prince Edward County totaled $20.8 million.

He says his industry has done an effective job of marketing the experience of the County—earning more than $3 million in media coverage last year alone. Without it, Rebecca and Kane may have decided to spend their getaway dollars elsewhere.

 

 

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