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Franklin County ponders occupancy tax

April 17, 2001

Franklin County ponders occupancy tax



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


Franklin County is considering a 2-percent room occupancy tax that would generate about $250,000 a year to promote tourism in the region.

Norma Bigham, president of Pennsylvania's Capital Region Vacation Bureau, asked the Franklin County Board of Commissioners Tuesday to approve an ordinance that would make the new tax effective July 1.

The state passed legislation this winter allowing counties to impose an occupancy tax of as much as 3 percent on hotel rooms, in addition to the state-levied 6 percent occupancy tax, she said.

"We need to look at the impact of the taxes and use of the fund and gauge reaction from people," said G. Warren Elliott, chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

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The tax would add a dollar to the cost of a $50-a-night hotel room.

As much as 10 percent of proceeds could be used by the county for administration. The county and the Vacation Bureau would split the remainder - approximately $225,000 on an estimated 1,410 rooms. They would be permitted to use the money only on tourist-related promotions and infrastructure.

Bigham emphasized tourists would be the ones shouldering the tax.

"This is not a tax the community will pay," she said.

Cumberland County has already passed the tax, and at least 20 other counties in the state are considering it, Bigham said.

She said Franklin County could use the tax proceeds to establish non-profit tourism grants to help local arts councils, museums or special projects that would attract tourists.

The Capitol Theatre, Kittochtinny Historical Society, Renfrew Museum and Park and similar non-profit tourism businesses could benefit from the tax revenue.

The commissioners will consider the proposal and solicit feedback, said Commissioner Bob Thomas.

He said he has paid local occupancy taxes in other states and sees no reason Franklin County should not capitalize on it.

"I've always favored the tax. It restores fairness," he said.

He said thousands of people stay in the county every year when they visit Gettysburg or Hershey, Pa., or local attractions.

"We will give the process time to review what's involved for us to collect the tax," he said.

Thomas said so far he has not heard anything negative from people in the hospitality industry.

Donaldo Jones, general manager of the Comfort Inn of Chambersburg, said he is not against the tax as long as the Vacation Bureau and commissioners keep their promise to spend all the money to promote tourism.

"It should all be documented, however the money is spent," Jones said.

He suggested the county use the money for billboards promoting tourism and advertisements in golf magazines to showcase Franklin County as a golfing destination. He also recommended that county hotels be mentioned in these advertisements, to give something back to the businesses that will be affected by the tax.

Jones said that while the hotel won't have to pay the tax, it will have to deal with any customers who complain about the tax.

Gregory Ohler, general manager of the Fairfield Inn in Chambersburg, also favors the tax - if it's used the right way.

"If it goes directly back into marketing the community, that would be the ideal situation," Ohler said.

"We have a market for tourism, and I feel we should have a unified effort to put funding back into the community," he said.

With regular nightly room rates at the Fairfield Inn running from $76 to $81, the tax would add about $1.50 per night to the bill, but Ohler thinks most customers will get used to it.

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