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Village Council— hold on hotel tax requested

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Employees and supporters of the Mills Park Hotel voiced full-throated opposition to a potential municipal sales tax on hotel customers at Village Council’s June 5 meeting.

“The hotel has done nothing but bring business to town and create 55 jobs,” said hotel employee Susan Butler to Council members. “I don’t know why you would do this to one of your own.”

Villager Becky Campbell described the proposed new tax as disrespect toward the hotel, which opened downtown a year ago.

“It’s sad that you would attack them like this,” she said.

Several other hotel employees also expressed strong support for their employer.

“This is emotional for us,” said Monika Lindsay. “We work tirelessly at the hotel.”

The June 5 discussion was a continuation of a discussion that last took place shortly after the hotel opened in spring 2016. A 26-room establishment on the historic Barr property downtown, the hotel is the largest lodging facility in town. Soon after its opening, Council held an preliminary discussion regarding whether to initiate a lodging tax on the hotel, and possibly other lodging facilities.

At that discussion Mills Park owner Jim Hammond asked Council to give him a year to get up and running before moving ahead with a tax. However, at last week’s meeting, Hammond said a year is not long enough.

“We need more time than that, there are a lot of challenges, a lot of unknowns,” Hammond said. Operational costs have been higher than expected, he said, and occupancy has been uneven.

Instituting a municipal tax at this time would deter potential customers from staying at Mills Park, Hammond said. “What we need to do now is to focus on raising occupancy.”

It takes about five years for a new business to establish itself, according to Lisa Goldberg, who spoke in support of the hotel’s concern. “I think this is the wrong time to talk about taxing a new business.”

The June 5 Council discussion was not intended as an attack on the hotel, according to several Council members. Rather, it’s part of an exploration of potential new sources of Village revenue.

“We want to reset what this discussion is about,” said Council member Judith Hempfling, who said that current concerns over village affordability require that Council look at new funding sources. “This is not hostile to the Hammonds or to the hotel. This is a lodging tax discussion.”

And Council’s interest is inherently broader than that of hotel supporters, according to Council member Gerry Simms.

“The community appreciates what the Hammonds have done,” he said, regarding the hotel. “But as Council members, we have to look at what will benefit the community as a whole,”

Lodging taxes are becoming more popular as revenue sources for counties and municipalities, according to Council member Brian Housh, who said currently about 50 Ohio villages have lodging taxes. A municipality is allowed to impose a tax up to 3 percent on hotels/motels, plus an additional 3 percent if the county does not already also impose a lodging tax. However, Greene County does have a 3 percent lodging tax, so the Village would be restricted to only a 3 percent tax, since the total lodging tax allowed by counties and towns is capped, for most, at 6 percent.

According to 2003 statistics, 150 municipalities in Ohio had lodging taxes, according to data supplied by Assistant Village Manager Melissa Dodd. And while the combined city/county lodging tax is most often capped at 6 percent, some counties have been allowed to collect taxes at a greater percentage. Those counties include Cuyahoga (Cleveland), which has a combined city/county lodging tax rate of 7.5 percent, and Franklin (Columbus), which has a combined rate of 10 percent.

Council agreed to continue the discussion at its June 19 meeting, as Dodd stated she is continuing to gather more research into the topic.

In other Council June 5 business:

• Council members disagreed on the purpose of a proposed gathering with members of the Yellow Springs school board and Miami Township Trustees, which is so far unscheduled. Hempfling previously described the gathering as important in helping local governing groups be aware of each group’s upcoming levies so as to coordinate funding efforts in the face of affordability challenges. However, Council President Karen Wintrow stated at the June 5 meeting that affordability should not be the gathering’s prime concern, nor should the local governing groups seek to influence each other.

“I don’t know that it’s our place to jump on what the schools plan on doing,” Wintrow said, referring to recent school district discussions regarding a May 2018 levy for new facilities.

However, Hempfling and Council member Marianne MacQueen disagreed.

“To me, the main issue is affordability,” Hempfling said. “It’s something that as elected officials we have a responsibility to get together and talk about. It’s a key issue in the community and it won’t go away.”

Wintrow suggested that Hempfling and MacQueen take the initiative in organizing such a gathering.

• Housh announced that the second community discussion on potential uses of the Center for Business and Education, or CBE, land will take place Wednesday, June 28, from 7 to 9 p.m. in Bryan Center Rooms A and B. The focus of the evening will be potential ways the land could benefit the village economically, and current covenant restrictions on the land, Housh said.

• Several members of the Yellow Springs Tree Commitee questioned Council’s recent proposal that Yellow Springs should apply to become an official Tree City USA. Previously, Council requested that Manager Bates make an application to obtain the Tree City status, but Bates said she had not yet done so. The request came to Council from the Energy Board, according to Hempfling, who said the citizen group views the designation as a way to encourage villagers to plant more trees and care for current trees.

However, the Yellow Springs Tree Committee has already planted so many trees that it’s difficult to find additional space, according to Tree Committee member Robert Gage, who said the group has planted 2,000 trees.

“There isn’t an abundance of space here,” he said. “We are near or at capacity. I don’t think we can do any better than we’ve already done.”

The application process also requires several steps that the Village has not yet taken, according to Tree Committee President Anna Bellisari, including a Village tree care ordinance and a community forestry program.

Council agreed that Bellisari will meet with Manager Bates and Assistant Manager Dodd to determine next steps.

• Assistant Manager Dodd, in her regular report, stated that Council needs to clarify its “summer sewer” policy, in which villagers who use Village water for gardens may avoid paying sewer use costs during summer months. Council passed such a policy several years ago, but the policy was inadvertently omitted from that year’s legislation, according to Dodd. Council agreed to put the topic on an upcoming agenda.

• During citizens concerns, Chrissy Cruz urged Council to include a dog park in proposed uses for the now Village-owned CBE land.

• Amy Maruyama of the local and national group Moms Out Front urged Council to pass a resolution supporting the goals of the Paris Accord climate change agreement, which more than 200 American cities and states have already supported in response to President Trump’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the agreement. Council member MacQueen expressed support for the action.

“To me, this is a no-brainer,” she said.

Council charged Council Clerk Judy Kintner with preparing a resolution and bringing it back to Council.

• Council unanimously approved the second reading of an ordinance that grants a permanent conservation easement on a portion of the Glass Farm.

• Council unanimously passed a resolution that appoints Zoning Administrator Denise Swinger to the Architectural Review Committee for the CBE.

• Tristan Giardullo, the son of Zoning Administrator Swinger, was presented with the AMP Ohio Richard H. Gorsuch Scholarship by a representative of AMP.

Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, June 19, at Council chambers.

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