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Campsite tax hike viewed

May 05, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Commissioners could get more money from a county room tax if it taxes campsites at the same level as hotel and motel rooms, Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said this week.

However, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Thursday he thinks the county would need to get legislative approval in order to assess the tax on campsites. He said he needs to hear more information before deciding if he supports the idea.

The room tax is increasing to 6 percent from 3 percent July 1. The tax raised $486,175 in fiscal 1999, according to county documents.

It has been estimated the tax will raise $923,578 in the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to state documents.

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The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau has estimated the county could get an additional $100,000 to $200,000 a year if it assessed the tax on campgrounds, including campsites, Swartz said. That would include government-owned campgrounds at state parks, he said.

However, County Attorney Richard Douglas said he thinks the tax can't be assessed on buildings that are not permanently fixed to the ground or are without plumbing.

A rented cabin attached to the ground would be taxed, but a campsite or a cabin that could be moved would not, he said.

Treasurer Todd Hershey said Thursday he has approached all campground companies in the county and only Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park in Williamsport had cabins meeting the definitions requiring payment of the tax.

Jellystone paid $595 during the last fiscal year and $963 through April of this fiscal year, according to documents supplied by Hershey.

Jellystone has 20 cabins and pays taxes on 11 of them, said Owner Ron Vitkun. There are also 190 campsites.

The cost for a campsite ranges from $25 to $34 a night, a company employee said. Six percent of $30 is $1.80.

Douglas is basing his opinion on advice letters from the state attorney general's office in 1997.

"While not a formal published opinion, it certainly has some persuasive force," Douglas said in a June 1998 letter.

Swartz and Donald Day, owner of Beaver Creek House Bed and Breakfast, say it's not appropriate for the tax to be charged to hotels but not campsite users.

"It is not right. It is not fair to me or the Ramada Inn or the Venice Inn," Day said.

"I'm saying if you're staying overnight someplace that charges, that particular host should be paying the tax," Swartz said.

Vitkun said he wants to know if people really want to tax church groups and Boy Scouts who often stay in their campgrounds. He also questions if a tax should be assessed on recreation vehicle users, many of whom are senior citizens.

The Vitkuns and John Durham, owner of Hagerstown Snug Harbor KOA, said it would not be fair for them to have to pay taxes on campsites.

KOA has 17 cabins and 90 campsites, Durham said. They don't pay taxes on the cabins because they don't have plumbing and are not permanent structures.

They are planning to build six full-service cabins later this year and will pay taxes on those, he said.

Dave Melugin, acting president of the bureau board, said the board has not discussed Swartz's idea and he had no comment on it. Melugin is manager of the Four Points Sheraton Hotel.

Bureau Executive Director Ben Hart could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.

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