Commonwealth Journal

May 17, 2013

City tourism board, taxes now law

Transient tax rates of 1, 3 percent will fund commission, local events

by Heather Tomlinson
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

City councilors on Monday made official an ordinance that will establish a Somerset Tourist and Travel Commission — and take a little bit out of tourists’ wallet in the process. 
Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese gave the second reading of Ordinance 13-06, which levies a 3 percent transient room tax for operations of the Somerset Tourist and Travel Commission, along with a 1 percent transient room tax to go toward promoting events at convention center located within the city limits.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler has indicated the 1 percent tax would go toward promoting events at The Center for Rural Development. 
The city’s transient taxes would be on top of the 3 percent transient tax currently levied by Pulaski Fiscal Court.
Once Ordinance 13-06 is published and enacted into law, it would mean guests at lodging places within the corporate limits of Somerset would pay 7 percent in transient taxes — 4 percent to the city tourist commission and 3 percent to the countywide bureau.
The Somerset-Pulaski Convention and Visitors Bureau during the 2011-12 fiscal year collected $327,601.28 in transient taxes. The year before, $294,748.60. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said 1,290,000 people vacationed in Pulaski County during the 2011 fiscal year.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler has said the council is in the process of establishing a tourist and travel commission because of a need to promote conventions to benefit restaurants and motels in the city. Also, he said Somerset has been excluded from the Somerset-Pulaski Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“It is a Pulaski County Convention and Visitors Bureau ... Somerset is not included,” said Girdler.
Councilor Jim Rutherford had the only “nay” vote during Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting after the second reading of the ordinance. 
But he emphasized it wasn’t because he had a problem with the tax itself.
“(This is) a classic example of a benign tax,” said Rutherford. “The people who are going to be paying this don’t live here ... just one thing I do have to note, if we pass this, our government will get just a little bit bigger.”
Rutherford said his reservations come with the idea that the city will be adding another facet to its complex government. 
“I’m against bigger government in general,” said Rutherford. “That’s my only concern about it. We certainly need to support The Center for Rural Development. We certainly appreciate their presence in our community.
“I don’t have a problem with the tax at all ... it’s just the point of another tax. Just something else we have to do,” Rutherford added.
Councilor Tom Eastham was not in attendance Monday. 
Ordinance 13-06 states that the taxes are meant to help fund “ ... operation of the tourist and convention comm-ission and to finance the cost of acquisition, construction, operation and maintenance of facilities useful in the attraction and promotion of tourist and convention business ...”
The taxes would affect those staying in “ ... a suite, room or rooms, charged by all persons, corporations, or the like, or similar persons, groups, or organizations doing business as motor courts, motels, hotels, inns, or the like, or similar accommodations businesses ...” 
The taxes will not apply to renting and leasing apartments.
The City of Somerset Tourist and Convention Commission would be composed of seven members, appointed by Girdler, according to the ordinance. They would be volunteers and not be compensated or receive any city benefits.
 Girdler has said the commission would not have a staff and that city employees would provide operational duties. The commission would annually submit to Somerset City Council a request for funds to operate the commission for the ensuing fiscal year, just as the other city departments do. All purchases would be made through the city financial office, budget director and procurement officer.
Girdler on Monday said the city had toyed with the idea of a city tourist convention for some time. 
“We’ve been thinking about doing that,” said Girdler. “We reviewed that for the past four years, so it’s not a new thing.” 
The ordinance is available in its entirety at Somerset City Hall.