By BILL MARDIS, Editor Emeritus Commonwealth Journal
Somerset is getting ready to take a bigger bite out of tourists’ pocketbooks than originally thought.
Total transient room taxes proposed in an ordinance given first-reading approval Monday night by Somerset City Council is 4 percent, 3 percent more than the 1 percent reported in Thursday’s Commonwealth Journal.
The 4 percent motel room taxes proposed by Somerset is in addition to 3 percent already collected by Somerset-Pulaski Convention and Visitors Bureau. The countywide transient room tax was enacted several years ago by Pulaski Fiscal Court.
If the ordinance creating a City of Somerset Tourist and Convention Center Commission is given a second reading 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 Commonwealth Journal admittedly was late reporting first reading of the tourism ordinance because of a crush of news events this week. Two reporters tried unsuccessfully Wednesday afternoon to obtain a copy of the ordinance establishing the transient room taxes. We were told Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese had the only copy and she was out of her office.
Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler, during an interview Wednesday afternoon, mentioned only the 1 percent special transient room tax for the convention center. The ordinance establishing a City of Somerset Tourist and Convention Commission, obtained Thursday morning from Wiese, also includes a 3 percent transient room tax.
Ordinance No. 13-06 says “For the purposes of operation of the tourist and convention commission and to finance the cost of acquisition, construction, operation and maintenance of facilities useful in the attraction and promotion of tourist and convention business, there is hereby imposed and levied a transient room tax of 3 percent for the rent for ever occupancy of 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 don’t apply to renting and leasing apartments.
In addition, Somerset City Council, according to the ordinance, would enact a special transient room tax of 1 percent for the sole purpose of meeting operating expenses of a convention center located within the city’s corporate limits. Girdler said The Center for Rural Development would benefit from the 1 percent transient tax.
The 1 percent special transient room tax would glean between $25,000 to $30,000 a year, the mayor estimated. He did not mention the 3 percent transient room tax, but most overnight lodging places are within the city. The countywide tax, during the 2011-12 fiscal year yielded $327,601.28.
Somerset-Pulaski Convention and Visitors Bureau will continue to collect a 3 percent transient room tax from lodging places within the city and county. With Lake Cumberland rising back toward a normal level, visitation numbers and transient room taxes should increase.
“Our position is that we (Somerset) have been excluded ... and we no longer will be excluded,” Girdler told the Commonwealth Journal. “We have not been invited to partner with the Somerset-Pulaski Convention and Visitors Bureau. We have been only a token ... we don’t have a place at the table. This (City of Somerset Tourist and Convention Commission) is the only way we can be involved.”
The City of Somerset Tourist and Convention Commission would be composed of seven members, appointed by the mayor, according to the ordinance. They would be volunteers and not be compensated or receive any city benefits.
Girdler said the commission would not have a staff; 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. All purchases would be made through the city financial office, budget director and procurement officer.
Girdler indicated during the interview Wednesday that second reading of the tourist and convention center ordinance is not set in stone.
“IF WE DO give the ordinance a second reading,” was the mayor’s response when as about the ordinance’s schedule. He said he still would prefer a joint city-county tourism commission.
A Somerset ordinance must be approved on two readings and published before it becomes law.