Public okay with tax hike, want collection reform
Supporters of a lodging tax increase were the dominant voice at a joint public hearing held by the Morgan County Commission and Town of Bath on Wednesday, March 16.
None of the dozen attendees opposed raising the tax on local hotel rooms from 3% to 4%, but several speakers said they had real concerns about the tax being collected properly.
Last month, TBS asked both the county and town to raise the tax to 4%, saying their travel group was running out of money and couldn’t promote tourism effectively without the increase.
TBS gets 50% of the tax, which must be spent on tourism promotion. The other 50% is given to groups doing recreational, cultural or beautification projects.
Tax collection still an issue
During last week’s public hearing, TBS officials said a large part of their budget trouble for the last year had stemmed from the Town of Bath’s failure to collect the tax from all hotels required to pay it.
As a result, the town is still owed more than $30,000 in Hotel/Motel tax, dating back to 2009, from The Country Inn.
“I want to acknowledge that we had a system failure with our current situation with collections. We’ve put a system in place to make sure that doesn’t continue. Things like this won’t happen again to this degree,” said Bath council member Ryan Rebant.
Bath mayor Susan Webster said town officials had recently received two checks -- totaling nearly $1,800 -- from The Country Inn for taxes collected in January and February 2011.
Webster said negotiations between the town and the hotel’s attorney to broker a payment plan for the overdue taxes hadn’t succeeded.
“We are currently preparing to bring suit to clear up all of the money owed,” she said.
The suit will also seek interest on the old taxes and legal fees to cover town expenses, Webster said.
One percent or more?
Tom Zahnow, who volunteers at the Morgan County Parks & Recreation ball fields, said he was in favor of the tax increase,
which benefits Parks & Rec, but thought the collections issue needed
to be resolved.
“We have a problem with how it’s run and collected. It’s failed for a year and a half. Before you do anything, you need to sit down and figure that out,” he said.
Zahnow also suggested the increase be more than the proposed 1%, arguing that the effect on visitors wouldn’t be significant. By law, the tax in West Virginia can go up to 6%.
“We went on vacation to Florida recently and didn’t even look at the room tax,” said Zahnow.
“I’d rather see it go to the maximum or what the majority of counties have,” he said. “If most of them are at 6%, think about going to 6%.”
TBS President Stephanie Rebant said the travel group, which is made up of member businesses throughout the county, wouldn’t support a hike higher than 1% right now.
“TBS will withdraw the request if it’s over 1%. The industry won’t bear more than a 1% increase,” said Rebant.
Rebant said TBS would reap an additional $20,000 in revenue if the tax was raised 1% and all taxes were collected.
Commission President Stacy Dugan said resident Sandy Kay had contacted her to express her support for a 1% increase, if that’s what TBS needed to continue to operate. Kay said she was “not okay” with the lodging tax still owed to the Town of Bath.
The Morgan County Commissioners will make a decision about the Hotel/Motel increase at their April 7 meeting at 11 a.m. The Bath town council will take up the question at their meeting on Tuesday, April 5 at 6 p.m.