Delegation mulls hotel tax issues

February 10, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County legislators declined to take action Wednesday on a request from the City of Hagerstown to add to the 6 percent hotel rental tax for hotels in the city.

The city had asked for 2 percent more from city hotels. The money would have been used for capital improvements such as revitalization projects in downtown Hagerstown and in city neighborhoods.

They also held off on a request from the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau to increase its share of the tax from 45 percent to 50 percent.


Bureau President Thomas B. Riford told the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly that before 2000, the bureau got almost all of what was then a 3 percent tax. When the tax was raised to 6 percent, he said the bureau's share dropped to 45 percent.

Riford said that when he became president of the bureau last year, "the organization was in dire financial straits" with a 2003 debt of $180,000, and $65,000 in past-due bills.

"We had to make significant changes," he said.

Now, he said, there are no past-due bills and the debt has been cut by more than half. But two full-time positions have been cut, and for a while, Riford said, he couldn't pay his own salary.

"I inherited an organization that was dysfunctional from a financial standpoint," he said. "We were within a millisquidgen of declaring bankruptcy."

He said tourism was up in the county's parks and each of the county's major shopping areas reported millions of visits in the past year. Occupancy in the county's hotels was up nearly 15 percent last year, he said, and attendance at Hagerstown Suns baseball games was up 27 percent.

"I want the positive momentum of tourism to continue," he said.

Riford said the additional 5 percent of the hotel tax would be worth about $60,000 per year to the bureau. Money from the tax, he said, pays for about 70 percent of the bureau's budget.

Riford said the bureau did not support a tax increase for city hotels.

"Our hotel members believe it is discriminatory...," he said.

Although Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, serves as a nonvoting member of the bureau's advisory board and was aware of the bureau's request, Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, complained that the rest of the delegation should have heard about it before the fifth week of the General Assembly session.

Saying he wanted more time to consider the request, McKee voted against it. Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he wanted the delegation to reconsider the request next week.

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