Olentangy Valley News

Bed-tax increase

Commissioners, Delaware council back proposal

Tax 'paramount' to keep Little Brown Jug going, leaders say; others say it could drive visitors to stay in Columbus hotels

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A proposal to raise Delaware County's bed tax to fund improvements at the county fairgrounds gained support from Delaware City Council and the Delaware County Board of Commissioners last week.

A resolution to support a 3 percent increase of the bed tax was supported unanimously by Delaware City Council at its May 12 meeting.

Earlier that day, county commissioners approved the resolution 2-1 after hearing objections from the head of the county's visitors bureau.

The tax increase must be approved by the state legislature before it can be implemented.

H.C. "Chip" Thomson, vice president of the Delaware Agricultural Society's board, said fair officials saw increasing the tax on hotel rooms as a "creative way" to fund improvements at the fairgrounds.

He said the board's members did not want to seek a tax levy from county residents, whom he said pay enough taxes already.

Thomson previously has said the fair and its signature event, the Little Brown Jug harness race, "will simply cease to exist" if improvements are not made to the fairgrounds' buildings, roads and sewer and water lines.

He said the increase, which officials estimate would raise about $190,000 annually, would not hurt any county businesses.

"I've never asked, 'What's the bed tax going to be?' when I go stay somewhere," Thomson said.

Deb Shatzer, executive director of the Delaware County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that's not always the case. She said the bureau often gets calls from potential visitors who want to know what the bed-tax rate is at county hotels.

Currently, the county has a 3 percent bed tax to fund the visitors bureau, while the city of Delaware and Berkshire and Orange townships have additional 3 percent lodging taxes.

The fair board's proposal would increase the total bed tax in those municipalities to 9 percent, which is 1 percent lower than the tax at hotels in Columbus, including the portion of Delaware County land that has been annexed into Columbus.

Shatzer said the proposal could drive visitors to hotels in the Polaris area of Columbus by making the bed taxes comparable.

Delaware County does not collect any bed-tax revenue from Polaris-area hotels, even though they lie within county boundaries.

"Delaware County hotels have a competitive advantage against Polaris-area hotels because the overall tax rate is lower," Shatzer said.

"It stands to reason that a higher tax will lower demand for room nights in Delaware County outside of Polaris."

Shatzer said she wanted the commissioners to table the resolution so officials could seek out research on the effects of bed-tax increases on tourism and economic development.

Commissioner Ken O'Brien made a motion to table the resolution, but it died from lack of a second.

He eventually would be the lone vote against the resolution.

O'Brien said the fair board should have worked more closely with the visitors bureau before bringing the resolution to the county.

"It sounds to me like the (bureau) hasn't been partnered in this proposed resolution," he said.

Commissioner Dennis Stapleton said Shatzer raised some valid concerns, but he added the board needed to find a way to secure the Little Brown Jug's future in Delaware County.

"I think it's paramount for us as a board to support the economic-development engine it turns," Stapleton said.

"I'm not saying there are not possibly better ways."

Stapleton and Commissioner Gary Merrell voted in favor of the resolution.

The resolution faced no opposition from members of Delaware City Council.

Thomson told council he had been in touch with state Sen. Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander) and Ohio representatives Andrew Brenner (R-Powell) and Margaret Ann Ruhl (R-Mount Vernon) regarding the proposal.

Delaware City Manager Tom Homan said if the proposal is introduced in Columbus, it could attract opposition from the hotel industry.

"The lodging industry in the state of Ohio has lobbyists, and they watch these types of things," he said.

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