Although city officials have said that the proposed city lodging tax will be used to stimulate area tourism, some area hotel managers have expressed concern over the wording of the ordinance.
Stone Brook Inn Manager Mike Lynch said he would have no problem with the proposed tax if it were, indeed, aimed at increasing visitors to the area.
However, he said the wording of the ordinance is such that it will allow the city to use the money for whatever it deems necessary instead of earmarking the funds specifically to increase tourism.
The wording Lynch refers to is found in Section 7-714: Use of Funds, where it states:
All taxes collected pursuant to provisions of this Ordinance shall be placed in the general funds of the city, shall be budgeted and appropriated annually by the city, and used exclusively for the purpose of encouraging, promoting, and fostering conventions, tourism, industrial development and economic development for the city.
“Every single one of us (hotel/motel owners and operators) would be for the tax if it was written properly,” Lynch said. “But the money goes to general funds.”
He said that as long as the specifications include industrial and economic development he has no assurance that the funds would be used to promote tourism.
Outrigger Motel Owner/Operator John Wells said he doesn’t have strong objections to the tax as long as it doesn’t cause him to lose money.
“Our tourism attributes need to be improved – that would be way better for Grove,” Wells said. “But if our rates in town are higher than the rates in the surrounding area, people will go somewhere else to stay.”
Wells said he also had concerns about the bookkeeping procedures required by the proposed tax.
“The way I understand it, the accounting (for the city taxes) will have to be turned in a couple of weeks before the accounting for the state and federal taxes. It would make it a lot simpler if the dates matched other state and federal taxes,” Wells explained.
City officials have said that the tax would allow them to enhance tourism in the area and bring more customers to all area businesses, including hotels, motels, and RV parks.
“The primary purpose of the tax is to get people into the hotels in greater numbers and to get them to stay in town longer,” said City Manager Bruce Johnson.
According to Johnson, the average price of a hotel room in Grove is $70 per night, which would mean that the average collected tax on a room would be around $3.50 for each night.
RV sites average about $20 per site, which comes to an extra $1.00 per night.
He said the tax would raise approximately $100,000 to $150,000 per year – revenue dollars that the city sorely needs.
Grove Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Friden said the Chamber is “very supportive of the tax. It will bring us revenue to help market Grove on a more aggressive level.
“We need it,” she said. “It’s a tax that won’t directly effect residents. Only visitors will pay it.
“When all of us travel, we expect to pay these taxes in other place,” Friden added.
Johnson concurred. He said when he spoke to mayors and city managers from other towns, they always assumed Grove already had a hotel/motel tax.
“They think it’s just a no-brainer that Grove, with the lake and all it has to offer, would already have a hotel/motel tax,” Johnson said.
He noted that the city would not be the sole decision-maker regarding what the revenue would be used for if the tax passed.
At last Tuesday night’s Grove City Council meeting, the council approved a measure to form a committee, which would make a recommendation about how the funds should be spent.
Johnson said that committee will consist of two city council members; one or two citizens with expertise in the field of hotel management/ownership; one to three members with expertise in tourism development, and one to two members from the community at large.
“The committee will define who we are when it comes to tourism and will create and execute a marketing plan for Grove,” Johnson said.
Anyone who wishes to serve on the committee may send a letter of application to the City of Grove.
Also on the ballot in Tuesday’s election is an ordinance increasing Delaware County sales tax by one-tenth of one percent.
The increase is proposed to pay for 20 beds in the Ottawa County Jail at a cost of $31.50 per bed per day.
After an initiative to increase the sales tax by a half-cent and build a new detention facility for $10.6 million failed in August, Delaware County Commissioners contracted with Ottawa County to find a quick fix for an overcrowding problem that has caused the Oklahoma Department of Health to file suit against the county.
Jail administrators were told in 2006 they could face state Health Department fines of as much as $10,000 a day if they failed to fix capacity and safety standards.
Citizens are encouraged to visit the polls Tuesday, January 13th, and cast their votes.