Council stalled on hotel tax
- Published: June 22, 2017
In Village Council’s first vote on whether to impose a local lodging tax on transient visitors, Council members came up deadlocked at their June 19 meeting.
The vote was 2–2 regarding whether to impose a 3 percent lodging tax, with Judith Hempfling and Brian Housh in favor of the tax, and Marianne MacQueen and Gerry Simms voting against. Council President Karen Wintrow had recused herself from the vote. Council was not voting on legislation, which has not yet been introduced. Rather, the vote was on a motion made by Hempfling to move forward on the 3 percent tax. If the issue had passed, the vote would have resulted in legislation in an upcoming meeting.
A transient visitor is someone who stays at a place of lodging less than 30 consecutive days, according to Village Solicitor Chris Conard.
The vote came at the end of the second consecutive Council meeting in which the lodging tax issue took center stage. At Council’s previous meeting, supporters and employees of the Mills Park Hotel and its owners, Jim and Libby Hammond, strongly opposed the tax, stating that the action would be harmful to the hotel and its owners, and urging Council to give them five more years before imposing a tax. Council had originally discussed the tax shortly after Mills Park, the village’s largest hotel with 26 rooms, opened in April 2016, but at that time the Hammonds requested a year’s delay before a tax is imposed. Council had waited a year before re-addressing the issue, but at the June 5 meeting, the Hammonds asked for more time. Operating costs at the hotel have been higher than expected, Jim Hammond said, and occupancy has been uneven.
In Ohio, municipalities are allowed to have up to a 3 percent tax on lodging if the county also has a 3 percent lodging tax, which Greene County does have, or up to 6 percent if there is no county tax. Imposing such a tax is a popular way for municipalities to collect income, and all Greene County municipalities except Yellow Springs and Cedarville have such a tax.
Council is considering the tax due to the need to bring in more income to continue to provide Village services, according to Hempfling and Housh at Monday’s meeting, and not out of disrespect for the hotel owners, as some hotel supporters asserted at the last meeting.
“Council is looking at this because it’s one of the few options we have for increasing our revenues,” Housh said.
However, Mills Park supporters repeated their argument that Council is being unfair.
“This is anti-Mills Park Hotel,” said Libby Hammond. “If you want to support us, give us at least five years.”
If such a tax is imposed on the hotel’s customers, Mills Lawn business will decline, along with other local businesses that have benefitted from its presence in the village, according to Steve Hetzler.
“Jim Hammond should be given a tax break for years,” Hetzler said, due to the hotel’s positive effect on other businesses.
Yet the 3 percent tax would be paid by customers, not the hotel, said Dorothee Bouquet, who used the hotel’s lowest room rate of $150 per night to identify $4.50 as the daily local lodging tax charge.
“Customers won’t be stretched by this amount,” she said.
But the tax will make a difference in the hotel’s occupancy rate, according to Jim Hammond.
“If you have a choice between two hotels and one has a tax and one doesn’t, you go to the one that doesn’t. That’s just common sense,” he said.
The comments followed a discussion among Council members regarding the potential scope of such a tax. If the Village moves ahead with the tax, it should apply not only to visitors staying at the hotel, Springs Motel and local B and Bs, but also to those renting out space in homes through Airbnb and other short-term lodging mechanisms, according to Marianne MacQueen.
“If we do this, we should give it as broad an application as possible,” she said.
MacQueen also said she’s not comfortable voting on the tax until the definition of short-term lodging is clear. Council at an earlier meeting sent the question to Planning Commission, in order to update the zoning code to address the current practice of villagers renting out space in their homes through Airbnb. Planning Commision is currently discussing the topic.
And according to MacQueen, she favors a lower tax, at least initially.
“I’m in favor of doing the tax initially at 1 percent, to get in the door,” she said.
In a written document to Council, Village Manager Patti Bates answered questions on the issue posed at the previous meeting. Regarding the use of lodging tax revenues, Bates stated that Ohio law stipulates that the income goes into the general fund. The general fund is used for providing all Village services aside from utilities, and Bates suggested that Council could earmark the income “to support those services that help make Yellow Springs a place people want to visit,” including pay for overtime for Village staff working special events, sidewalk repair, park maintenance and public art.
Bate’s document also answered statements made by Mills Park supporters at the previous meeting that the Village, while offering tax abatements to new industry such as DMS Ink, had refused tax abatements to the hotel. According to the Greene County Development director, who said he had no record of the Hammonds requesting an abatement, hospitality businesses are not eligible for tax abatements unless in blighted areas, Bates wrote. Former Interim Village Manager Kent Bristol, who held the job at the time, also said that the Hammonds had not requested a tax abatement.
The motion to vote on a 3 percent tax came at the end of the discussion, with Hempfling stating that Council needed to act rather than just keep talking. Having recently met with Jim Hammond at the hotel, Hempfling also stated her appreciation for the beauty of the hotel and for Hammond’s renovation work there.
While the June 19 vote was a tie, Council members said they will revisit the issue after Planning Commission sends its definition of short-term lodging back to Council.
Moving on Cresco
In other Council business, Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance that authorizes Manager Bates to enter into an option agreement for the sale of eight acres of real estate. The ordinance is an updated version of one Council previously passed that allows the Village to sign an option to purchase agreement with Cresco Labs Ohio, a company that seeks to put a medical marijuana cultivating and processing plant on a portion of the Center for Business and Education, or CBE. The agreement is contingent on the company being licensed by the state of Ohio as a medical marijuana provider, and that license will be submitted at the end of June.
Other items of Council’s June 19 business will be covered in the June 29 News.