Town seeks new tourism tax

Published 6:00 am Friday, January 6, 2006

Monticello residents could soon see a slight increase in thecost of prepared foods and temporary lodging.

Town aldermen are seeking state approval to add a 2 percenttourism tax to those services.

Approximately a decade ago, an economic study examined theeffect of a local tourism tax for Monticello, said Mayor DavidNichols, who was president of the Chamber of Commerce at thetime.

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That study indicated more than $20,000 per year would begenerated by the tax. Nicholes estimates that number would nowexceed $30,000 a year.

Money generated by a tourism tax must go back to encouragingtourism by law, Nichols said. Therefore, a tourism tax would boostfunding for the Atwood Water Park and the Lawrence CountySportsplex.

“Those are the two biggest tourism places we have,” he said.

Ward Two Alderman Steve Moreman said when the study was made 10years ago, town residents he talked to were not opposed to the tax.He has not spoken to anyone about it lately, he said.

John Butler of Monticello said he does “not have a problem” witha 2 percent tax to help fund the water park and sportsplex.

“I know it would be a good idea – anything to help the town orcounty,” he said. “We need all the help we can get.”

Money to improve those facilities would be well spent, hesaid.

The tax money could not be used to pay salaries, but could beused for maintenance and improvements at the sites, Nicholssaid.

Ward Five Alderman Craig Davis has expressed some concern that atax on prepared foods and hotels and motels would primarily be atax on local residents.

He said other areas with a tourism tax, such as the coast,already have a tourist base to fund the tax. Monticello, however,draws mainly from the local area and it could prove a burden forarea residents.

Nichols argues that many people who use the water park and thesportsplex live in the county or surrounding area. Those facilitiesare entirely funded by the town, he said, and the tax wouldindirectly defray some of the costs of those facilities to Lawrenceand neighboring counties.

He also added that a 2 percent tax is not likely to preventanyone from utilizing those services.

“An extra two or three cents for a burger is not going to stopme from buying it,” Nichols said.

J Beeson, owner of Jay’s Restaurant, said from a customer’sperspective he could support the tax and agreed an extra two orthree cents on a burger was not all that significant. However, asthe owner of a restaurant he had mixed feelings. Two percent ofvolume sales can add up to quite a bit of money in the long-term,he said.

“I might go along with 1 percent, but 2 percent is too high,”Beeson said.

The tourism tax died locally a decade ago because of a perceivedlack of support at the state level, Nichols said. The mayor said hefelt confident the state support is there now to pass the privatelocal bill needed to create the tax.