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Hotel operators attack tax increase plan

December 15, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

A majority of hotel operators contacted Tuesday and Wednesday oppose hiking the hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent to fund the county's portion of a proposed minor league baseball stadium.

cont. from front page

"This would be quite a setback for the hotel industry," said Jaffar Hussein, general manager of the Quality Inn on Dual Highway in Hagerstown. He said he believed travelers would drive to an area with a lower hotel tax.

The Washington County Commissioners, on a 3-2 vote, agreed Tuesday to ask the county delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to hike the tax. The extra money raised, an estimated $320,000 a year, would pay $3 million of the debt service for a proposed Hagerstown Roundhouse and Sports Complex.

The stadium's primary tenant would be the Hagerstown Suns. Any remaining money would go to the county.

Six of nine hotel managers and owners contacted opposed the tax and questioned whether they would benefit from a new stadium.

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Bed and breakfast inns also would be affected by the tax, said Don Day, owner of Beaver Creek House Bed and Breakfast. He has told the County Commissioners and delegation members about his opposition to the tax.

"Put me down for 1,000 no's," Day said. "It's absurd to put this tax on one segment of the community ... as opposed to other segments which benefit from the tourism industry."

"We don't support it. We might lose revenue," said Sam Patel, owner of the Comfort Suites on Dual Highway. Customers would be more likely to stay elsewhere if the tax is increased, he said.

Ben Hart, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, disagreed.

He said he has never seen hotels lose business due to a hotel tax hike, except when the increase was a huge one.

Most local Maryland counties have about a 5 percent hotel tax, Hart said. While Frederick County does not have a hotel tax currently the County Commissioners there are hoping to get a 5 percent tax in the near future, he said.

The hotel tax in most West Virginia and Pennsylvania counties in the area is 3 percent, Hart said.

Hotel operators in Martinsburg, W.Va., said the tax in Berkeley County is 9 percent.

Franklin County, Pa., does not have a hotel tax.

Dody Clever, general manager of the Comfort Inn in Greencastle, Pa., said she would not anticipate increased business if Washington County hiked its hotel tax. People are more likely to choose where they stay based on convenience and location than on the tax amount, she said.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau Board voted 10-1 two weeks ago to support the tax hike, Hart said.

Joe Bencivenga, general manager at the Venice Inn, said he saw very little business this year from Hagerstown Suns games and thinks most people who go to the stadium are from the area.

"People are complaining about the tax as it is," he said. "I don't think they should raise it 2 percent."

The Days Inn in Hagerstown gets some business due to the Suns because teams stay there, but they don't expect a new stadium to increase business, said Manager Dennis Patel.

Since the economy is good now a tax hike might not cause an immediate problem, Patel said. When that changes, a "trickle down" effect from the tax will hurt business, he said.

Gary Foreman, manager of the Hampton Inn, said he is in favor of a new stadium but doesn't think it's appropriate to force people from outside the county to fund it.

"I don't think that's fair to our guests," he said.

Three hotel operators said they support the hotel tax.

Hyun Seok, manager of Motel 6, said the motel on Massey Boulevard would not be too far from the preferred stadium site on Wesel Boulevard near Burhans Boulevard.

Mike Winberg, owner of the Super 8 Motel, said he doesn't think the increase will be a problem for his customers.

Since he sits on the Convention and Visitors Bureau Board he did not want to comment further, he said.

"I think it's probably a good investment for the community," said Davis Melugin, manager of the Four Points Sheraton Hotel.

He is also on the board but missed the meeting at which the vote was taken, he said.

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