Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to Pocahontas County each year to explore and experience the beauty of the unique attractions the county has to offer. As a result of their visits, the county benefits through the hotel occupancy tax, better known as the Hotel/Motel tax.
In the mid 1980s, the West Virginia Legislature passed a law to allow counties and large cities to collect up to three percent tax for lodging. The rate was increased to six percent in the early 2000s.
With passage of the law, Convention and Visitors Bureaus were created and 50 percent of the Hotel/Motel tax collected was used to fund them.
“Here in Pocahontas County, in 1987, the county commission did engage the hotel/motel tax law,” Pocahontas County CVB executive director Cara Rose said. “We call it the hotel/motel tax law; it’s technically the hotel occupancy tax, and once they engaged it, two CVBs came about, and by law, the county is required to give, at minimum, fifty percent of the collection to a legitimate Convention and Visitors Bureau. The other fifty percent is designated within the law as to how they can spend that. It’s very clear. It’s very specific about what entities can use that money and how it can be used.”
The tax is collected by county lodging facilities and is paid to the county by the facility owners.
“All lodging establishments in Pocahontas County are required to charge that occupancy tax to the guests so the lodging tax is not paid by the lodging establishment,” Rose said. “It is paid by the guest and then the lodging establishment pays it to the county.”
There are several exemptions to the law which allow guests to stay in the county and not pay the tax. Those exemptions depend on the type of facility and the length of stay.
“If it is a lodge room, a motel room, a hotel room, an inn, a bed and breakfast room – there is no exemption no matter how long you stay,” Rose explained. “If you’re staying in one of those types of establishments for thirty days or more, the guest is still going to be paying hotel/motel tax and lodging establishments are still going to be collecting it and remitting it to the county, regardless.
“If you stay in a lodging unit longer than thirty days, you can be exempt from the hotel/motel tax if it is a cabin, a condo or a house,” she continued.
If a visitor plans an extended stay and signs a lease to rent a room, cabin or home, they are exempt from the tax, as well. Also, if a facility provides lodging for an employee, the employee’s accommodation is exempt from the tax.
Rose said recently there has been confusion about the hotel/motel tax collection due to the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Pocahontas County. During the two-year construction of the pipeline, workers will temporarily reside in Pocahontas County and some people have questioned if the workers will be exempt from occupancy tax during their stay.
“Dominion has gone into long-term lease agreements with condominium owners and homeowners – mainly around the Snowshoe Resort area – and in that particular case, those are long-term leases, arranged in advance and they’re more than thirty days,” Rose said. “In that particular case, they’re going to be exempt from the lodging tax. If any of the Dominion workers are staying in hotels, motels, inns or bed and breakfasts, no matter how long they are staying, they still will be paying hotel/motel tax.”
While there will be Dominion employees who will be exempt from the tax, there will be some who will pay, along with the thousands of visitors who come to the county each year.
“The law’s the law, and I’m perfectly fine with that,” Rose said. “I understand the law. I know why it’s there. It’s no different than state sales tax. I personally think there’s a potential for us to get more hotel/motel tax – assuming the pipeline happens – I believe there is some potential for an increase for a few years.”
In the past three years, the estimated total of hotel/motel tax collected in Pocahontas County has been between $1.25 million and $1.5 million. With that, the CVB received between $730,000 to $750,000. The county commission follows strict guidelines to dole out the remaining funds.
“It is very specific,” Rose said. “It goes to emergency services, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, fire departments, Preserving Pocahontas, Pocahontas County Artisans Co-op, Pocahontas County Arts Council, Pocahontas County Landmarks Commission, Dramas, Fairs and Festivals, Parks and Recreation and the libraries. It’s very clear in the law.”
Throughout the year, the Pocahontas County Commission hears and responds to funding requests from various organizations covered by the law.
The occupancy tax helps fund a significant number of services and organizations within the county.
West Virginia is not alone in collecting a hotel occupancy tax. Rose said most states have a tax which can range from six percent to more than 20 percent.
“It’s a very common thing,” she said. “Most states have it. Most cities have it, and it varies. Some places, it can be really high, like New York City. Your taxes are twenty-two to twenty-four percent over and above your hotel room cost. In West Virginia, it’s six percent occupancy tax, plus your sales tax, so twelve percent tax basically. That’s not a real high rate. There are a few states that are a little bit lower than that, but that’s a pretty modest rate.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org