Many oppose hotel/motel tax hike

March 03, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The public weighed in Monday night and many opposed the idea of raising the county's hotel/motel tax to 6 percent from 3 percent.

The Morgan County Commission hosted the meeting at the Berkeley Springs High School auditorium to hear from the public before making a decision.

Commission President Brenda J. Hutchinson said the public meeting was to "take a look at the pros and cons" of raising the hotel occupancy tax.

The state law allows the lodging tax to be increased to 6 percent. It is paid by those who visit the area, and the money is used to promote tourism and programs such as Morgan County Parks and Recreation.


In January, Parks & Recreation Acting Director Bruce Beadenkopf asked the commission to consider raising the tax because the organization needs money for repairs, maintenance and future projects.

More than 20 of the 66 people who attended the public hearing made comments. Most opposed raising the tax in 2010 and suggested revisiting the idea in a year to see if the economy has improved.

Stephanie Rebant, lodge owner and Travel Berkeley Springs president, said "we are in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it makes positively no sense to raise taxes and pass on costs to the lodging community."

Rebant suggested that a financial analysis of Parks & Recreation be done.

Business, shop and restaurant owners who rely on the town's tourism all spoke out against raising the tax. Many gave examples of how bad business has been and how damaging the increased tax would be to local businesses.

George Farnham said 99 percent of his business comes from tourism. He said revenues are low, and he wants to revisit the tax next year.

"At the moment, it's just the wrong time," he said.

At the same time, many want to help Parks & Recreation.

"Let's try to find a way to get Parks & Rec what they need," said Patti Miller, owner of Panorama Restaurant.

Kenny Mason, Parks & Recreation president, said he circulated a petition and collected the names of about 500 people who said they supported the tax increase.

"Everyone says it's a bad time, and I agree," he said, but when Parks & Recreation asked Travel Berkeley Springs to consider an increase a few years ago, "we were shot down."

"This is for the kids," Mason said.

Commissioners Thomas R. Swaim, Stacy A. Dugan and Hutchinson all said they will weigh everything they heard before making their decision, which is tentatively scheduled for March 19.

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