Tax on campers dead, for now

December 19, 2000

Tax on campers dead, for now

By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners aren't going to pursue a 3 percent campground tax that could generate at least $50,000 in revenue, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Monday.

Some say using the 6 percent county hotel-motel tax on the same properties could raise $100,000 to $200,000.

There are 23 campgrounds in Washington County.

No action has been taken taken, but the consensus at a commissioners meeting last month was not to impose the campground tax, Snook said.

However, the idea will be re-examined as part of the spring budget process, Snook said.

"It's tabled, so to speak," Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said Monday.

Donald Day, who strongly supports taxing the campgrounds, said he is encouraged that the county has not entirely dismissed the idea.

Day, owner of Beaver Creek House Bed and Breakfast, and Swartz say it's inappropriate for the 6 percent tax to be charged to hotels but not all campsite users.


Although the county informally decided the issue during a Nov. 28 closed session, it came up again Saturday when Day addressed the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly during its annual hearing.

The campground tax would increase county revenues without hurting local residents, he argued. He doesn't think local residents stay at county campgrounds, he said.

"Washington County needs money... We see it in the newspaper every day," he said.

He asked the delegation if it can force the county to impose the tax.

Delegation Chairman Del. Bob McKee, R-Washington, said the delegation can't order the county to do that.

However, Del. Chris Shank said Monday that it's not a dead issue. During the upcoming legislative session, the delegation will need to address the issue and perhaps clarify related legislation, he said.

County Attorney Richard Douglas said he doesn't think the hotel tax can be assessed on buildings that are not permanently fixed to the ground or lack plumbing. But the county taxes rented cabins with plumbing at the 6 percent rate, he said. Douglas based his opinion on letters from the state attorney general's office.

"A pup tent is not a hotel," Douglas said.

But Swartz and Day disagree with Douglas' interpretation. They think the 6 percent tax can be assessed on all campground properties.

Ben Hart, executive vice president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he doesn't see it as an equity issue but as whether the county wants to assess a tax to increase revenues.

Swartz and Day say the campground tax could generate between $100,000 and $200,000.

Hart, who wrote a memo to the county on the issue, believes it would be closer to $50,000. Even at $50,000, Day said, "It is nothing to sneeze at."

Hart and the county are talking about the statewide campground tax assessed on camping shelters and recreation vehicles at 3 percent. Swartz and Day are talking about the county hotel-motel tax, recently raised to 6 percent from 3 percent.

Counties can opt to collect a state tax of 3 percent on campgrounds that was enacted in 1963. Washington County does not collect the tax.

Hotel tax money is earmarked for specific projects, but the commissioners can do what they want with the revenue collected from a campground tax.

Only one campground, Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park in Williamsport, is taxed at 6 percent.

The park paid $595 in taxes during the last 10 months of the fiscal year 1998, $2,094 in fiscal 1999 and $2,428 in 2000, Treasurer Todd Hershey said.

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