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Use of Cook County lodging tax discussed during county board meeting

The local lodging tax is the economic engine bringing so many tourists to Cook County and the use of these funds should be reconsidered to address the local housing crunch, according to a former county administrator.

“That lodging tax keeps growing because we take more houses and put them into vacation rentals,” said Rena Rogers, who is currently the director of the county’s management information systems department and served as the interim county administrator for most of 2020. “So we’re driving more demand and we’re reducing our ability to match supply at the same time. The opportunity here is to say: is there something else we can do with some of that money that is coming in from the lodging tax.”

Rogers shared her considerations on the local lodging tax and influx of tourists who visit Cook County each year during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, July 27. Rogers spoke during the public comment period of the meeting and said she was there as a local citizen, not as a department head or county employee.

Rogers, who is also a member of the local school board, encouraged the county board to reassess how the lodging tax is used and how it might be used to address critical needs facing the community, namely the local housing crunch.

“You’re talking about a Housing Redevelopment Authority right now,” Rogers said. “Is there a possibility we could use a percentage of (the lodging tax) to fund the HRA?”

According to state statute, lodging taxes can be imposed on short-term lodging by a number of local governments in Minnesota. Cities, townships and other specific areas may impose up to a three percent tax by statute, if 95 percent of the revenue raised is used for tourism promotion. In 2008, state officials wrote an allowance for this law specific to Cook County to apply an additional one percent lodging tax. The ‘One Percent Event Tax’, is used to support and promote local events selected by the tourism associations that make up the local tourism agency known as Visit Cook County.

During a recent WTIP interview, Visit Cook County Executive Director Linda Jurek explained what the lodging tax is and why it cannot be viewed as a tool to address local housing issues.

“You cannot use lodging tax to build houses,” Jurek said.

At the end of the July 27 commissioner meeting, Board Chair Dave Mills said it could be worthwhile to at least consider how the lodging tax could be used to address the shortage of housing in Cook County.

“It could be a really smart move to tie this into some housing funding,” Mills said.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners are expected to speak on this issue at length during a committee of the whole work session on Tuesday, August 17.