By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Pike County is looking at a new accommodations tax designed to boost tourism efforts.
Proceeds from the proposed 5 percent tax -- estimated to be at least $50,000 annually -- would be used as grants to fund projects and advertising/marketing efforts.
"It's a way to give something back to the community, to give lodging establishments and the community a way to fuel projects," said Gina Sheurman, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development Corp. which spent the past six months spearheading the tax idea and an accompanying ordinance for the Pike County Board.
Only four counties statewide -- including Brown and Pike -- don't have a hotel/motel tax. If approved by the County Board, the tax could be in place by April 1.
"We consider it a pass-through tax, not necessarily a tax on business or citizens of Pike County. It is a tax the traveler pays for staying in Pike County," Sheurman said.
The county's looked at the idea several times, with discussions held in 1999, 2004, 2006 and 2011.
"What we found with past attempts is there really wasn't a plan in place how the funds would be used," Sheurman said.
A seven-member funding advisory board would be made up of four lodging establishment owners, two County Board representatives and the PCEDC executive director. There would be a ban on using the funds for salary or personnel costs.
Even with a plan this time, not everyone believes the tax is the best way to promote year-round tourism in the county best known for its hunting.
"One of the very best ways to expand tourism is to allow our good tourism businesses to be able to survive. Nearly doubling the hotel tax at this time does not seem to be a logical way to go about that," Sprague's Kinderhook Lodge owner Andy Sprague said.
Justifying the tax because "everybody else is doing it" may not be the right way to promote business, Sprague said.
"Maybe one of Pike County's advantages in developing unique lodging and outdoor recreation tourism is that we aren't like most everywhere else that has an exorbitantly high hotel tax," Sprague said.
Nearby Adams County and Pike County, Mo., have 5 percent taxes, while Nauvoo charges 7 percent and Quincy 8 percent.
"People want to call it a pass-through tax where it's not affecting the business, but any additional tax on a consumer is a great challenge for that business. It has to be added to that bill," Sprague said.
John Ionson, owner of the Green Acres Motel in Pittsfield, sees potential in the proposed tax to spur new and expanded events in Pittsfield and Pike County.
One possible new event for the county could be a fishing tournament with one day on the Illinois River, one day on the Mississippi and one day at Lake Pittsfield.
"They need to spend two nights to make it worthwhile. That's a three-day event, and that's pretty big doings for Pittsfield," Ionson said.
But he wants to see a smaller tax, 2 percent instead of 5 percent, and a sunset on the ordinance.
Some lodging facilities could pass the tax on to guests, but "I think I'm at the limit of what I can charge. I think I'm going to have to eat it if we do it," Ionson said.
Three truckers who regularly stay at the Green Acres are drawn by the price, which Ionson said is $8 less than Hannibal, Mo., and $5 less than Jacksonville.
"We're awful close to what we can get in Pittsfield," Ionson said. "We're getting more business in Pittsfield than we were. In the summertime we're picking up three to five per night just off the highway, but we don't get a lot of stayovers."
Lowering the tax percentage trims the amount generated. A 2 percent tax would mean $20,000 a year.
"You can give out some grants, but can I do enough good with $20,000," said Jim Sheppard, PCEDC chairman and a County Board member . "There are a lot of people with ideas that will work, but handing out $1,000 or $2,000 may not be enough to get it done correctly."
Sheurman stressed generating more year-round tourism boosts the county as a whole.
"The increased tourism ultimately leads to increased revenue for other services, restaurants, stores," Sheurman said. "Everybody benefits."