Travel Berkeley Springs sees Hotel/Motel tax revenue loss
Travel Berkeley Springs reported a $15,000 deficit in Hotel/Motel tax revenue over the past year. Coolfont's
closing was a major part of
that deficit, said Travel
Berkeley Springs president Sally Marshall in their annual report at the June 29
Morgan County Commission meeting.
Some $7,500 was their half of the funds, said Travel Berkeley Springs board vice-president Jeanne Mozier. Coolfont closed December 31 and they saw a drop in tourism over
the first quarter, Mozier said. They hoped to make up that decrease in income by grants and by tightening their belts, she said.
Total income for Travel Berkeley Springs from July 1, 2006 to June 29, 2007 was $117,947.72. Hotel/Motel revenues from the county made up 47.10% of their revenue and town contributions comprised 15.15%.
Sales constituted 25.62% of the Travel Berkeley Springs income. Other revenue sources included grants and membership dues.
Last year, Travel Berkeley Springs expenses totaled $121,943.21. Some 67% of their funding goes toward advertising. Other expenses include payroll, office supplies and equipment and utilities.
The $15,000 deficit included income they projected they would have had if Coolfont had remained open, said administrator Laura Smith.
Marshall said that their Travel Berkeley Springs website was a major driver for tourism here. A weekly e-mail notice had a wide audience. They will also continue using print journalism and radio coverage to reach potential tourists, she said.
They are presenting visits to Berkeley Springs as a unique personal experience, said
Marshall. Photos of business owners will be added on the website to help welcome visitors.
Marshall said they face a challenge over the next two years with Coolfont gone and with the many construction projects in town.
Travel Berkeley Springs appreciated the commissioners paving the courthouse lot and noted how it was filled every day, she said.
They will be in trouble again with parking when courthouse construction begins and need to do some planning on parking, said Marshall.
Tax hike opposed
Marshall noted that surrounding counties had increased their Hotel/Motel tax from 3% to 6% and officially urged the commission not to raise the tax here.
Though Travel Berkeley Springs would be the biggest beneficiary of such an increase, their group felt it would not be in their best interest, said Marshall.
Commission President Glen Stotler said that no one has officially asked them to raise it, but that they have considered it.
Commissioner Tommy Swaim said he had been totally opposed to raising the Hotel/Motel tax, but now could go the other way. He has found on fishing trips to other locales that he was paying 10% to 14% in taxes. However, Swaim agreed that the timing for such an increase now would be bad.
Not paying, not reporting?
Stotler wondered if some establishments weren't paying the Hotel/Motel tax and if
there was a way to monitor
it. Marshall noted that they
do monitor the accounts and have kept spreadsheets to analyze trends and fair share reporting.
Mozier thought that some vacation home rentals had dropped off the radar, renting only to regulars and not reporting. She noted that paying the tax was "everyone's obligation."
It's possible that some places are under-reporting or that it could be a bookkeeping error, said Marshall.
"It's time to look again, in fairness to others, that they are paying their share," said Marshall.
She questioned if new businesses were aware of their responsibility of paying the tax. Marshall requested that commissioners make sure that we are enforcing the Hotel/Motel tax fairly and squarely.
Required by law
Lodging establishments such as hotels, motels, inns, boarding houses, lodges, cabins, bed and breakfasts and tourist houses are required by a 1988 county law to pay the Hotel/Motel tax if they have more than three rooms and rent more than ten times a year, said Smith.
State, local and county parks that provide lodging must also pay the Hotel/Motel tax. Establishments report their figures monthly, she said.
Convention and visitor bureaus get one-half of the Hotel/Motel tax monies, said Smith. The other half of the funds goes toward arts and recreational programs and facilities.
There has been some growth in beds from small independent cottages and vacation homes, but not enough to make up the deficit from Coolfont closing, said Marshall.
With the loss of Coolfont, the cost of rooms locally dropped from $125 to $70 a night at less expensive alternatives, said Mozier, pointing to less of a take from the 3% tax.
Town is still jammed on Saturday night, but the business that Coolfont provided for meetings is gone, said Mozier.
More overnight stays
Marshall said she is seeing more local people from Hagerstown and Martinsburg traveling here and spending the night in Berkeley Springs.
John Webster said that while soaring gas prices will make a huge dent in tourism, we're well placed for travelers making two to three-hour trips. In 10 years, we may need public transportation support, he said. Hopefully, by then the MARC train will be coming to Hancock, said Swaim.
Bus tours are becoming popular again, said Mozier. In the 1970s, bus trips to Cacapon State Park were very big, said Stotler. Swaim spoke of one-day trips to the area.
"Heads in beds is the real goal," said Marshall.