Board of Commissioners mull increase in hotel-motel tax

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Two discussion items regarding tax revenue were covered with no action taken at the June 20 regular meeting of the Henry County Board of Commissioners.

A proposed ordinance has been prepared that would increase the hotel-motel tax in the unincorporated county from 5 to 8 percent. The Georgia General Assembly authorized the move through local legislation in 2010 but the commissioners have never acted on it.

Locust Grove, McDonough and Stockbridge already have the tax at 8 percent, while Hampton, which only has one hotel, is still at 5 percent. A change now would impact ten hotels in the unincorporated county, according to a staff report.

The board heard an overview from county attorney Patrick Jaugstetter and county manager Cheri Matthews about what can be done legally with the tax revenue and where the money is going now. The county receives half of the tax money, or about $30,000 per month, which the Chamber of Commerce and Convention & Visitors Bureau gets the other half.

These funds can be spent by the county on interchange beautification, road signage, upkeep of certain recreational facilities, and other tourism development expenses. Should the board decide to pass the new ordinance, it can designate a separate nonprofit other than the chamber to utilize the extra revenue.

Commissioner Dee Clemmons made the first comment, saying that it is far too soon to make a decision on this.

“This resolution has been brought forward solely to start the discussion,” said Jaugstetter, who added that to his knowledge there has been no communication with other stakeholders such as the hotel industry, and there has been no study on the impact of the rate change.

Also presented at the request of the board was some basic information about a possible T-SPLOST, a special sales tax used exclusively for transportation projects. This was suggested in recent months as a possible way to fund needed improvements in the county, and it would require a voter referendum to take effect.

Jaugstetter said the board would have to notify the county’s municipalities before moving forward and also develop a specific project list. If the municipalities are not on board, the county can proposed a tax only for the unincorporated areas.

There are significant time constraints if it is done for the November ballot, as the elections office would need the exact ballot language by Aug. 25 to “build the ballot,” as Jaugstetter put it.

Matthews added that it would cost about $42,000 to put on an election this year, and voters in the cities who are participating in municipal elections would have to go to two separate polling places to vote on the referendum as well as citywide races.

No timetable was given for revisiting either of these issues.