Jeff council to consider use of hotel/motel tax revenue

The Jefferson city council will consider at its meeting Tuesday new criteria for the use of hotel/motel tax revenues. The proposed criteria were developed by mayor Craig Berry, council members Lisa Jaskey and Larry Teeples, and city administrator Mike Palmer. The criteria would have a “significant negative impact” on the Chamber of Commerce, according to Chamber president Omega Sang.

The hotel/motel tax is a 7 percent local tax imposed on hotel/motel room rentals within the city. Eighty percent of the tax revenue is to be used to promote and encourage tourism and convention business in Jefferson. The remaining 20 percent goes to the Jefferson park and recreation department.

Under the committee’s criteria, funds would go only to 501(c) organizations. The funds would be distributed as reimbursement after submitting to the city receipts for expenses. Requests for funding to promote Jefferson as a part of Greene County would receive a maximum of 45 percent reimbursement.

The criteria specifies that hotel/motel tax funds would not be used for sponsorships of fundraising events, fundraising expenses, requests for donations to capital campaigns, general operating expenses, construction, debt, or programs or projects promoting specific religious or political viewpoints. To see the committee’s proposed criteria, click here: Hotel/motel application criteria

Hotel/motel tax revenue could reach as much as $100,000 a year, with $80,000 going to promote tourism and convention business.

The use of hotel/motel tax revenue has been in question since last December when Ben Yoder, who was then president of the Chamber, presented to the council a proposed budget for the use of the anticipated funds. Until that time, requests for hotel/motel tax funds by the Chamber had been approved by city clerk Diane Kennedy as they were submitted and the council approved payment as a consent item.

The proposed budget included payment of principal and interest on a construction loan for the planned Welcome Center within the Thomas Jefferson Gardens. The Chamber requested approval by the council of those payments as part of securing the loan so the project could be completed in advance of a capital fund drive. The goal was to have the Welcome Center, with its public restrooms, completed this summer.

In January, the council seemed to agree that until further notice, principal and interest payments would be approved. Yoder offered to organize a task force to determine whether the Chamber should be the group to promote tourism in the future.

However, the mayor refused to sign the required document for the construction loan. Task force meetings were attended by Berry, council members Jaskey and Gary Von Ahsen and other community leaders. The task force had set for itself a 90-day deadline to develop a recommendation to the council.

On April 14 the task force made the following recommendation to the council: “The Greene County Chamber is equipped and qualified to promote tourism in Greene County. The task force recommends that the city council affirm, in writing, the use of hotel/motel tax proceeds to include payment for property insurance, utilities, and principal and interest for the Welcome Center located at 201 E. Lincoln Way, in support of the Greene County tourism industry, for a time of at least three years, with the re-evaluation of principal and interest payments after three years. The Chamber will conduct a concerted effort to raise capital funds over that time.”

But, Berry had appointed his committee to create new criteria on March 10, before the task force finished its work. The mayor’s committee finished its work earlier this month.

According to Palmer, hotel/motel tax funds could be used for advertising and promotional materials. The council is “open” to using the funds to pay staff time to develop those materials. “They know it all has to come from somewhere,” Palmer said. The council wants flexibility in how much it reimburses of the wages of Chamber tourism and events coordinator Angie Pedersen.

The committee’s criteria very specifically rules out any hotel/motel tax funds going into the Welcome Center. No work has been done on the building since last summer, although the Chamber is carrying debt for work done on the exterior in 2014.

The Chamber board of directors is also concerned that the Bell Tower Festival has been designated by city officials not as a tourism event, but as a Chamber fundraiser, making the cost of the festival ineligible for reimbursement.

According to Chamber president Omega Sang, “the proposed criteria would have a significant negative impact on the ability of the Chamber to promote tourism.”

The Chamber seeks to serve the entire county and uses as its tagline “Think Greene.” Most of the Chamber’s promotional efforts mention Greene County, although the great majority of the tourist-oriented business is in Jefferson. Limiting reimbursement to 45 percent unless only Jefferson is named would limit the Chamber’s ability to serve all its members.

The ballot language on the referendum in 2001 in which the tax was approved by voters called for 80 percent of the tax revenue to be allocated to the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce (now Greene County Chamber of Commerce) for the promotion and encouragement of tourism and convention business in Jefferson.

The ordinance enacting the tax did not specify that the Chamber was to receive the funds, but only how the funds were to be used.

Sang encourages Chamber members and community members to attend the council meeting. The hotel/motel tax use criteria are at the top of the agenda. The meeting begins at 5:30 pm. The complete agenda is posted under the Calendar/Agenda tab.


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