By Dustin Ensinger
A proposal to allow the Delaware County Agricultural Society to raise and collect a portion of the lodging tax on the county’s hotel rooms is being met with opposition from industry insiders.
Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association President and CEO Matt MacLaren said that his organization, along with each of the hotels in the county, are opposed to the proposal.
The proposed 3-percent increase in the lodging tax on hotels outside of Polaris would bring the total checkout tax rate to 16 percent, according to MacLaren.
“That’s higher than nearly every competitive city, especially mid-sized and small cities in Ohio,” he said.
By comparison, the combined lodging tax and sales tax amounts to 12.6 percent in the Polaris area and 13.25 percent in Marion.
“It would put them at a disadvantage,” he said of Delaware County hotels.
The proposed 3-percent increase in the lodging tax would raise about $190,000 annually for the agricultural society, which would be used to make improvements and repairs at the fairgrounds. Officials have said that if the facility is not improved, the Delaware County Fair and the famed Little Brown Jug could cease to exist.
Proponents of the plan have argued that the fair and the Little Brown Jug bring thousands of visitors to Delaware County each year.
MacLaren said that may be true, but very little goes on at the fairgrounds in the winter months when hotel occupancy rates are at their lowest.
“Lodging tax is not used for supporting fairs or fairgrounds any other place in the state,” he said. “It’s not what it was created to do.”
Kathyrn Burton, general manager of the NorthPointe Hotel and Conference Center, said the proposal could force her to cut her staff of 120 to remain competitive with other hotels in the central Ohio, especially those in the Polaris area that would not be affected by the proposal.
“I’m very concerned about keeping my associates employed,” she said.
The Delaware County Convention and Visitors Bureau (DCCVB) is also opposed to the proposal. Executive Director Debbie Shatzer said raising the total lodging tax on hotels outside of the City of Columbus will drive people to stay in the Polaris area and deprive the (DCCVB) of revenue necessary to promote the county.
The Delaware County commissioners and Delaware City Council have both passed measures supporting the proposal.
It will take a change in state law to allow the agricultural society to collect a portion of the bed tax. State Rep. Margaret Ann Ruhl (R-Mount Vernon) is working on an amendment that would do just that.
MacLaren said his organization will oppose the change in law. But, he said, he is willing to sit down with agricultural society officials to try and devise an alternative plan to increase revenues.
Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.