Pocahontas County Commission Approves Changes to Hotel/Motel Tax Distribution
Several citizens spoke up during the Hear Callers session at the beginning of the Pocahontas County Commission’s February 21st meeting, defending the Pocahontas County Artisans Coop ’s continued receipt of Hotel/Motel Tax money, which had been questioned at previous meetings by Commissioner John Rebinski, since he felt that the Artisans Coop was using tax money to subsidize artists’ private businesses by using the money to rent studios in which local artists displayed and sold their art.
Dr. Allison, speaking as a member of the Art Guild, said that the Artisans Coop has been a financial supporter of the Art Guild, which has never asked for or received any county money. She said the Coop helps the Guild operate an arts teaching center in the McLaughlin Cabin, and if the Coop lost its Hotel Occupancy Tax money, the Guild would not be able to continue teaching art to prospective new artists.
Nichole Wilfong also spoke up, saying that the Art Guild has become an important part of her life since suffering from a debilitating automobile accident.
Charlotte Slagle, a member of the Artisan’s Coop said the arts help drive the hospitality industry, which is the engine that drives tourism, which produces the Hotel/Motel Tax funds. She also said the Coop’s Tax-Exempt charter, approved by the IRS, includes providing space for artists to display and sell their art.
After discussing this issue during a number of previous meetings, the Pocahontas County Commissioners decided that further discussion about changing the manner in which the very lucrative County Hotel Occupancy Tax receipts are distributed would be pointless. Commission President Walt Helmick had initially suggested that further discussions about this be held in a future work session or two, however, Commissioner John Rebinski said:
“We’ve been talking about it for what, three months? -December, January, February – almost three months,” said Rebinski. “The way the Hotel/Motel Tax and the changes that we are looking at and proposing out there, we’ve gotten all the input I think we need.”
Commissioner Jamie Walker agreed:
“Yea, I don’t think you’re gonna get anything that you haven’t already heard,” said Walker.
Commissioner Walker had his own proposal for the Hotel/Motel Tax distribution, which was: not changing anything in the current system except for taking a lump sum of $200,000 from the tax for the new county ambulance service and reducing the lump-sum payment to the Bricks & Mortars fund from $30,000 to $25,000. His proposal was not voted on.
The commissioners passed Rebinski’s newest proposal on a two to one vote, with Commissioner Jamie Walker voting against it. This new Hotel/Motel Tax distribution will:
Make the following fixed contributions from the remaining tax receipts after the CVB gets half of the gross amounts from the tax as mandated by state law:
- $200,000 will be used to start up the Pocahontas County paid ambulance service.
- A fixed payment of $120,000 will be given to the Fire Board.
- Keep the current fixed payments to the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital ($75,000) and to Emergency Medical Services ($50,000.)
- Bricks & Mortars Fund -their fixed payment would be reduced to $25,000 from the current $30,000.
- Provide a one-time $50,000 for a Sheriff cruiser and trailer.
Regarding the percentages of the remaining money that organizations will receive, the percentage distributions will:
- Eliminate the 3% that the Artisans Coop receives entirely; (for a new total of 0%)
- Reduce Preserving Pocahontas to 2.5% from 3%, but capping it at $21,000.
- Reduce the Arts Council’s percentage to 3.5% from 4%, but capping it at $28,000.
- Increase the Historic Landmarks’ percentage to 6% from 5%, but capping it at $50,000.
- Increase Dramas, Fairs and Festivals’ percentage to 22% from 20%, but capping it at $175,000.
- Reduce Parks and Recreation’s percentage to 31% from 33%, but capping it at $250,000.
- Reduce the Libraries percentage to 30% from 32%, but capping it at $255,000.
- Add a new beneficiary – The County Commission Hotel/Motel Projects, which will receive 5% plus any money left over above the caps to the other organizations. At Helmick’s insistence, the first $200,000 of this category will be held by the commission in a special fund account to guarantee that Pocahontas Memorial Hospital is able to make its USDA Loan payments. What remains in the account can be distributed to other Hotel/Motel Tax qualified organizations based on their needs.
Be sure to listen on Allegheny Mountain Radio for part 2 of this important meeting in which we will tell you about the first concrete steps that were passed to establish the new county ambulance service, as well as everything else that happened during the meeting.