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Hotel Taxes Generate $200,000 to $250,000 Annually; Commissioners Review Tax Committee

Thursday, December 7, 2017 @ 11:12 PM

Posted by Ron Wilshire

fullsizeoutput_3d58CLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – Every time someone rents a room in Clarion County they pay a three percent hotel tax.  The tax applies to hotel rooms, cabins, and bed and breakfast rooms and generates from $200,000.00 to $250,000.00 per year.

The state-approved local tax is intended to encourage additional visits in the future and promote tourism.

Clarion County keeps four percent off the top for administrative costs, and then 25 percent is used for local grants related to tourism and 75 percent goes to the PA Great Outdoor, a Tourist Promotion Agency that represents five counties: Cameron, Clarion, Elk, Forest, and Jefferson Counties.

“The whole idea of the hotel tax is to get more people to stay at the hotels, cabins, and the bed and breakfasts,” said Clarion County Commissioner Ted Tharan.

The commissioners appoint members to the Hotel Tax Committee and the committee then recommends expenditures to the commissioners.  Tharan recently suggested that committee membership should be expanded.

“I said let’s try and get some fresh ideas other than just the hotel and cabin owners,” continued Tharan. “What else can people come up with and be creative with, and I think we can get some real good ideas. How can we have events in Clarion County that will bring people in.  Since we’re not attracting industry because there’s very little industry to attract – face it, we’re not going to get Amazon headquarters here.  We don’t have the workforce – we’re having trouble filling the jobs that are in Clarion County with drug-free people. Let’s look at it from a different angle and promote tourism more and how can we do that?”

Bob Hargenrader, manager of the Clarion Hampton Inn, is in favor of new creative ideas.

“I’m always open to new things that could be used to generate overnight stays,” said Hargenrader. “One of the things they do such as the Bluegrass Festival by the United Way is pretty site-specific when they do it at the Park Inn, but, in general, that helps lodging overall. When you consider the collection of the tax, the best use of the money is by the TPA.  They have their print media, video media, social media, and the trade shows where they represent Clarion County.  The best bang we’re getting for our buck is from the PA Great Outdoors.”

Members now on the committee include Pam Zahoran, a current Clarion County Auditor and United Way Executive Director, and Matt Kaye, a cabin owner from the Cook Forest area. are serving as co-chairs.  Other members include Sue Gering, Shannon Barrios, executive director of the Clarion County Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), Jamie Lafever, former CEDC director and member of the New Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, Jim Callahan, the Clarion Park Inn manager, Tim Reddinger, part-owner of the Microtel Inn and Suites, former Clarion County Commissioner, Tracy Becker, exectutive director of the Clarion Area Chamber, and John Straitiff, executive director of PA Great Outdoors.

“I wanted to have some different ideas from different people, like economic development,” said Tharan. “The solicitor said you could add people by resolution. It is basically an advisory committee for the commissioners and don’t spend any money.  They just recommend how to spend the money.”

Raising Between $200,000.00 and $250,000.00 from Hotel Taxes

Hotel taxes raise from $200,000.00 to $250,000.00, depending on the year, according to Tharan.

“We have new motels, but it seems to be a little stagnant is my concern.  I would think you would start seeing that increase each year with more motels out there. We need to do a better job, and it’s the treasurer’s job to find all of these people that aren’t paying tax.  We need to do a better job of finding these people and start notifying them they need to pay the tax,” Tharan explained.

Straitiff also felt the collections were down some for 2016, but 2017 looks like it may be one of the top five years.

“2016 was down a little for hotel tax collections at $200,000.00 (down $7,000.00 from 2015),” said Straitiff. “However, if you look what happened last year, you can see why. Monroe Heights was having issues and was closed for a little bit, Park Inn was going through major renovations for most of the year, and several other hotels at Exit 62 changed their flags.”

“So far in 2017, the first quarter was up $5,000.00 over first quarter 2016.  The second quarter was flat compared to 2016, and the third quarter saw the second largest amount collected in that quarter since the program started in 2004, at $89,500.00 which was up over $25,000.00 from the third quarter in 2016. 2017 is on pace to be one of the best years since the years of the gas drilling boom. This year should finish as one of the top five years in 13 years that room taxes have been collected in Clarion County.”

In terms of new members for the tax committee, Tharan feels the local input is needed.

“We need input, and there are a lot of good ideas out there, but we need these people to push the ideas forward. I think a lot of it has to come from Clarion County because PA Great Outdoors concentrates on five counties.  They have to do what’s best for five counties; our job as commissioners is to do what’s best for Clarion County.”

Straitiff also noted that since Jefferson and Elk Counties went to five percent on room taxes and Clarion County is still at three percent, the amount those two counties contribute compared to Clarion County is much closer it than used to be.

How much money remains in the local hotel tax fund?

“We currently have $48,000.00 in reserve built up in that account,” said Tharan. “I’ve been looking back in the records, and I think five years ago we had over $150,000.00. I think the previous board went through that money thinking it’s no good if we don’t spend it, and I don’t know what it was spent on. I think they gave economic development $25,000.00 for that study of the feasibility for a conference center, and I don’t know what else they did with the money, but as of the end of last year, my first year there, I think there was $5,000.00 there.”

“We can’t do anything with $5,000.00…let’s start building this thing back up.  If we come up with a plan, we’ll have some money to invest in something like putting billboards up on I-80 or different ways to advertise. Maybe do apps for phones that when you’re going down the Interstate and want to find something.  A billboard could tell people who are getting off exit 62 to check the app for what there is to do here.”

Competition?

Exit 62 has the largest number of “rooms” available on I-80 making it a popular stop.

“From the lodging providers that I have talked to at exit 62, they don’t feel that lodging providers in the other PAGO counties is their biggest competition, but rather the glut of empty rooms in DuBois that are being marked down lower and lower in an effort to entice I-80 travelers,” said Straitiff.

“We are making every attempt to make sure Clarion County gets their share of coverage in everything that we do, be it printed materials, blog stories, Facebook and other social media posts, videos, and really in anything else we do.”

“There is a benefit to belonging to a regional tourism group instead of being a stand-alone county.  Travelers want to know what they can do, see, and experience that is nearby while in the region. They don’t ask or care about county lines, just where can they stay, eat, what they can do, and where they can do it. By being part of the regional tourism group, it pools funds to offer marketing projects and programs that would not be affordable to a single county. It also enables travelers to find more things that they want to do across the region while they are here.

“In early 2018, PAGO will launch a new dynamic and more mobile-friendly website to better meet the demands of today’s traveler.”

Uses of hotel taxes

“Back in 2004 when they gave counties the ability to collect the hotel tax, and at that time, the local tourism promotion agency received funding from the state through grants” said Hargenrader. “After the hotel tax was implemented those grants gradually went away and are non-existent now.”

“It’s now being spent countywide on a variety of grants. Some of it goes to the Chamber of Commerce, some in the past to the Sawmill Center for the Art, Peanut Butter Festival, and Home for the Holidays in Knox and Sligo, Cookie Days in Rimersburg, and Horsethief Days in Knox.”

“Those things do create some overnight stays, but some of the money has yet to produce overnight stays such as the $25,000.00 grant for the Conference Center Study.  We’re still waiting for a benefit because the funding for that tax is supposed to be putting heads in beds or meaning overnight stays.”

Outlook/Membership Opportunies for PAGO for 2018

According to Straitiff, in 2018 all lodging providers in Clarion County that are current with submitting their room taxes to the Clarion County treasurer, receive a free PAGO membership.

“With that membership, they get an interactive listing on our website VisitPAGO.com as well as the state tourism website VisitPA.com.”

Straitiff says the membership has many other benefits, including a free listing and advertisement in PAGO’s widely-distributed Welcome Guide and GO magazines.


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