2017-10-25 / Front Page

County lodging tax will rise to six percent on January 1

by Kate Shunney

Despite objections from lodging business owners and local tourism officials, Morgan County Commissioners voted last Wednesday to hike a lodging tax on overnight guests at local hotels, bed and breakfasts, vacation rental homes and resorts.

On October 18, county officials voted 3-0 to raise the tax from four percent to six percent as of January 1, 2018.

The Hotel/Motel tax has stayed steady at its current level since 2011. It was first adopted in 1988 at three percent.

Lodging guests outside town limits but within the county pay the tax on top of their room rate.

County officials also voted to change the Hotel/Motel Tax ordinance to remove an exemption for guests staying more than 30 consecutive days. Now those long-term guests will also have to pay the lodging tax. The change follows a state-level law revision.

During a 90-minute public hearing on the lodging tax, commissioners heard from individual rental homeowners and those in the tourism industry. All of them said an added tax on top of room rates could make lodging costs around Berkeley Springs uncompetitive, compared to other towns nearby.

Stephanie Rebant, owner of Berkeley Springs Cottage Rentals, said her business dutifully collects and pays the lodging tax to the county on behalf of hundreds of property owners. Instead of raising the tax, she challenged the commissioners to go after vacation rental owners who don’t collect or pay the lodging tax at all.

Rebant argued that would raise just as much revenue. Travel Berkeley Springs receives half of the lodging tax for tourism promotion and community groups that get the rest of the revenue.

In the last fiscal year, Travel Berkeley Springs received $64,362 in lodging tax through county collections. That came from guests staying at Cacapon State Park lodge, the Best Western, B&Bs and vacation rentals throughout the county. The same amount was disbursed to county organizations for recreational, cultural or beautification efforts.

TBS took in $23,368 from lodging businesses inside town limits, including The Country Inn, Berkeley Springs Motel, B&Bs and vacation rentals.

County officials have said the added revenue from a higher lodging tax will pay for more recreational and community programs.

Lodging numbers are on the rise for the second year in a row, said tourism officials. Even more revenue is expected through the Hotel/Motel tax as the Omps family ramps up renovations at the former Coolfont resort, with reported plans to open resort facilities, lodging and rental homes in the spring of 2018.

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