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Visitor Bureau seeks reimbursement

February 19, 2001

Visitor Bureau seeks reimbursement



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau wants to be at least partially reimbursed for expenses it will incur for a convention to be held in Hagerstown, the bureau's executive director said Monday.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau is asking the Washington County Commissioners for funds in addition to those it receives from the hotel-motel tax, Bureau Executive Director Ben Hart said.

The bureau expects to spend from $40,000 to $50,000 for the September convention of The Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses, the American Legion's honor society, Hart said.

At least 2,000 people from the organization are expected to attend and to spend as much as $2 million to $3 million during the week-long event, Hart said.

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The convention could fill between 1,000 and 1,800 hotel rooms, bureau officials said.

Under last year's increase in the hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 6 percent, Washington County expects to receive about $350,000 in additional funds, which must be used to develop tourism attractions, enhance economic development or support cultural and recreational projects. The tax hike and language was approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

Some felt the tax hike was intended to help fund a baseball stadium but that proposal has faltered, and some groups have expressed interest in obtaining some of the county's lodging tax proceeds.

All such requests will be addressed by the Washington County Commissioners within the next few months, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau now receives 45 percent of the proceeds from the lodging tax, County Attorney Richard Douglas said. Nothing in the statute bars the bureau from receiving additional funds, he said.

Last fiscal year, that Convention and Visitors Bureau's lodging tax allocation was $482,238, County Treasurer Todd Hershey said. So far this fiscal year, which began July 1, the bureau's share of the tax is $240,470, he said.

Hart said he believes the county also should reimburse the bureau for costs related to the convention. He said that when the bureau bid on the convention it had to agree to:

-- Provide transportation. That will mostly involve shuttling attendees to the Ramada Inn and Convention Center for the men's convention and to the Venice Inn for the women's auxiliary convention for day and evening functions.

-- Host a dinner party, to be held at Fort Frederick.

The transportation and the dinner party will cost the Convention and Visitors Bureau about $40,000 to $50,000, Hart said.

The Hagerstown City Council last Tuesday indicated it was willing to provide city services for a Sept. 13 parade of the Forty & Eight organization. The bureau will not spend money on the parade, Hart said.

The parade is expected to cost the city about $14,000.

The county and the Convention and Visitors Bureau will receive national exposure because of the convention, and that could prompt other revenue-producing conventions to come here, Hart said.

The group last held its convention in Maryland in 1979 in Baltimore but it has never held its gathering in Washington County.

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