Pike County Board adopts accommodations tax despite objections

Posted: Feb. 26, 2013 9:30 am Updated: Mar. 12, 2013 6:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- The Pike County Board approved a new tax Monday designed to boost tourism efforts.

The 4 percent accommodations tax should generate $40,000 per year to fund new efforts to bring overnight guests into the county.

"We are very pleased to see something put in place," said Gina Sheurman, executive director of the Pike County Economic Development Corp., which spent the past six months spearheading the tax idea and accompanying ordinance for the board.

But Jennifer Stendback with the Green Acres Motel in Pittsfield doesn't see the tax as a good step for the county.

"I would love to see more tourism in Pittsfield; however, I do not see this tax as the solution," Stendback said. "There is not enough accountability in this plan to allow me to fully support it."

The county's looked at the idea several times, with discussions held in 1999, 2004, 2006 and 2011.

This year's effort targeting putting a plan in place for using the funds, calls for a seven-member advisory board made up of four lodging establishment owners, two County Board representatives and the PCEDC executive director along with a ban on using the funds for salary or personnel costs. County Board Chairman Andy Borrowman hopes to name the advisory board in March.

Stendback raised concerns with how existing tourism funds are spent, urged a sunset on the proposed new tax and wanted to see rules in place to determine who serves on the advisory board awarding grants from the tax money generated to fund projects and advertising/marketing efforts with a beneficial impact on the county.

"If we do implement a hotel tax, it should be implemented like a revolving loan program. Loans should be repaid with the proceeds from the event. If the event loses money, then no money would be returned," Stendback said. "My suggestion is to create the advisory board. These individuals help the tourism bureau fund events that support new tourism. If these events seem to have an economic impact, then revisit the idea of an accommodations tax using a lower tax rate as a revolving loan program."

Board members Cleve Curry and Dan Mefford urged more discussion, but a motion to table for a month failed when Borrowman broke a 4-4 tie.

The board offered some modifications to the original proposal, adding a five-year sunset to force another look at the tax and lowering the tax amount.

"I'm opposed to it at 5 percent. I might feel different at 3 percent," board member Michael Boren said.

Board member Harry Wright suggested 4 percent because 3 percent wouldn't bring in enough money. "We need sufficient funding to accomplish something," he said.

The board approved the ordinance on a 4-2 vote. Voting in favor were Curry, Jim Sheppard, Tami Webel and Wright. Justin Noble and Boren voted against, and Fred Bradshaw, whose son Eric Bradshaw opposed the tax and its impact on deer hunters, and Mefford, who didn't feel he knew enough about the ordinance, abstained.

Only four counties statewide, including Brown and Calhoun, don't have what is known as a hotel/motel tax.