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County seeks hotel tax hike

May 29, 2004|By CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

Voters at the May 11 primary election may have rejected a levy for parks and recreation in Berkeley County, but county commissioners believe another funding source exists.

If the state Legislature approves the plan, Berkeley County will increase its hotel/motel tax from 3 percent to 6 percent.

Norwood Bentley, attorney for the county, has written a proposal to increase the tax, which will be forwarded to local representatives in the House of Delegates and state Senate.

Only counties with a comprehensive plan, such as Berkeley, can increase the tax.

Apparent Berkeley County Commissioner-elect Ron Collins said he thinks the bill would have a better chance of passing in the Legislature if officials in each county could decide whether the tax should be raised there.

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Collins made increasing the tax one of his election platforms.

"It will double the amount (Parks & Recreation officials) are getting from the county right now," he said.

Should legislators grant the tax increase, 25 percent of the revenue would go to the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau and 75 percent would go to Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation, commissioners said. Now, half goes to the visitors bureau and half goes to Parks & Recreation.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said such a bill has been introduced in the Legislature for the past two years. The most recent "died a slow death" in committee, he said.

Duke co-sponsored the bill with fellow Del. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.

"It's a way to shift the tax burden, the revenue burden, off West Virginians," Duke said.

Collins agreed.

"It's not going to be a tax on local people," he said.

In the upcoming session, to begin in January 2005, Duke said a consensus needs to be built and working relationships need to be formed with legislators in leadership positions.

"We'll put it in again and continue to fight hard," Duke said. "I think it's a valuable bill that would be beneficial."

The last bill, which gave county authorities the option of raising the tax, failed after it was placed at the bottom of a list of committee priorities, Duke said.

Tourism officials opposed the bill, arguing that it would put West Virginia hotels and motels at a competitive disadvantage, he said.

Duke and Collins disagreed, with both saying most travelers do not find out before making a reservation how much a state charges in hotel/motel taxes.

At the May 11 primary election, county voters were asked to approve a Parks & Recreation levy that would have cost the owners of a $100,000 home an additional $6 per year in taxes.

Although 53 percent of the voters approved it, the levy needed a 60 percent majority to pass.

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