Hotel/Motel Tax Distribution & EMS Discussed at Special Commission Meeting
The apparently related issues of revising the way the Pocahontas Hotel/Motel Tax receipts are distributed and the current EMS Crisis, which requires the establishment of paid EMS Ambulance crews, were the subjects of the Special Pocahontas County Commission meeting on Friday, Jan 13th.
Commission President Walt Helmick opened the meeting by explaining that this discussion is important since the county needs to provide reliable EMS services to its population. Helmick said the commission needs to redistribute money to better “transport sick people” with ambulances.
Commissioner John Rebinski said the EMS crisis has highlighted the issue of how Hotel/Motel Tax money is distributed and that the amount of money generated by that tax has increased several fold over the past five or six years. He said those tax revenue increases have greatly increased the amount of money going to each of these organizations that receive a percentage of those tax revenues and that this is unfair to other organizations, which are just as deserving and important to the community, such as Meals-on-Wheels.
(Just for our listeners information, there are 7 organizations receiving percentages of the Hotel/Motel Tax. They are: Preserving Pocahontas; The Artisan’s Coop; the Arts Council; the Historic Landmarks Commission; Dramas, Fairs & Festivals; Parks and Recreation; and the libraries.)
Rebinski said the current way the tax revenues are distributed is not fair since these funds were not intended for “just a small group of organizations, but for the entire county,” and many of them spend more money than they need to operate, just because it is there.
Then, Rebinski went on what he self-described as a “rant.” Here is a small part of what he said:
“I’ve seen some of the budgets. I question a lot of the stuff where the money is going,” said Rebinski. “I question (that when) you get excess more money, then all of a sudden you got a new spot to spend it on, yet if you take it away this year -like if I come in this year and say I need to take some of your money away – (you say) ‘oh my gosh, tourism is doomed! It’s the end of the world! You are going to kill it! John is the devil, and we are not going to have another visitor to Pocahontas County’ because I took some money away. Let’s all stop the BS. I’m just going to call everybody out right now, lets just stop the BS! Alright?”
Rebinski’s rant continued. He said that when he talks about cutting a half percent or one percent of some of these organizations’ money, everybody goes crazy. He said he could cut four of these organization’s funding 100% and it wouldn’t affect tourism one bit, and all he is doing is trying to change the way the money is distributed to a fairer way and not just give it to these few organizations but “to rein-in these funds so they are spread out more.” He said he wants to take that extra money and use it to help other deserving organizations that don’t currently receive Hotel/Motel Tax funding.
Rebinski said he envisions that those 7 organizations should submit annual budget requests for Hotel/Motel tax money based upon their specific needs to the commission, and those requests should include justifications for it, just as county agencies do every year. The commission will then either approve or decrease the request, based the justifications submitted.
Lauren Bennett of Parks and Recreation, said “the money we all get is used for the benefit of the public.” To which Rebinski replied that he recognizes that, but there are other organizations out there that also serve the public, many of which are also tied into tourism, but those are not included in the present distribution system.
Bill McNeel questioned if the commission can legally distribute Hotel/Motel Tax money in the manor proposed by Commissioner Rebinski.
Helmick summed things up by saying “change is inevitable, but the changes won’t hurt these groups.” There were no decisions made by the commissioners at this meeting. This saga continues!