Hotel tax collection trending upward

GH_HotelTaxGraphsmThe past winter was a cold one and that’s the kind of winter they like at Snowshoe Mountain Resort. The resort had a successful ski season and that’s good news for the Pocahontas County Commission, which collects a hotel occupancy tax (hotel tax). The tax applies to all hotels, motels and other lodging in the county, but the majority of hotel tax proceeds comes from Snowshoe.

West Virginia law authorizes counties to collect a hotel occupancy tax of three percent. Over the past several years, the county has collected approximately $1 million per year from the tax. For the last two years, Pocahontas County has exceeded that amount, by far. In fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30, 2013, the county collected $1.35 million. This year, with one month left in the fiscal year, the county had already collected $1.45 million, about seven percent more than last fiscal year.

Where does the hotel tax money go? State law provides rules how the county can allot the money.

By law, the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) receives 50 percent of all hotel tax proceeds. State law directs that the remaining 50 percent can be distributed, at the county commission’s discretion, to construction of convention centers; construction, operation or maintenance of public parks, tourist information centers and recreation facilities; promotion of the arts; historic sites; and beautification projects. A maximum of $200,000 may be distributed to medical care and emergency services.

The Pocahontas County Commission utilizes the following percentage plan to distribute hotel tax proceeds. Amounts distributed in fiscal year 2013 are shown in parentheses. The CVB receives its mandatory 50 percent ($674,500). Medical and emergency services receive the maximum $200,000. The remainder is allocated as follows: Pocahontas County Free Libraries, 34 percent ($151,130); Parks and Recreation, 32 percent ($142,240); Dramas, Fairs and Festivals Board, 22 percent ($97,790); Arts Council, six percent ($26,670); and Historic Landmarks Commission, six percent ($26,670).

Organizations receiving hotel tax proceeds are required to provide a financial statement to the commission, showing how the distributions are spent. A check of the county commission’s files last Friday showed that all organizations were up-to-date with their financial statements.

The greatest beneficiary of the hotel tax is the CVB, an independent, non-profit corporation, dedicated to marketing and promoting Pocahontas County as a tourist destination. The CVB will receive more than $720,000 from this fiscal year’s tax receipts.

Last year’s CVB budget showed that the organization spent 48.2 percent ($325,178) of its budget on marketing. Another 38.7 percent ($261,478) was spent on personnel wages, insurance and taxes. The group’s annual statement lists four full-time employees, one part-time employee and four seasonal employees. The remaining 13.1 percent ($88,844) of the CVB budget was spent on dues, education, insurance, office operations, promotional products and utilities.

In neighboring Greenbrier County, a grand jury indicted two county commissioners earlier this month for misappropriation of hotel tax funds. The indictment alleges that commissioners Karen Lobban and Betty Crookshanks misdirected $1.3 million in hotel tax proceeds for renovation of a swimming pool at New River Community and Technical College.

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