Lodging group pushes back against tax plan

Tia Lynn Ivey News

The Madison Mayor and City Council tabled a proposal to increase the city’s Hotel/Motel Tax from 5 percent to 7 percent at Friday morning’s work session.

Ellen Sims, director of the Madison-Morgan Convention Visitors Bureau (CVB), appeared before the council to ask for the increase in order to expand the CVB’s mission in promoting tourism in Madison and Morgan County.

“We have been set at 5 percent for years,” said Ellen Sims “The CVB had moved forward to increase this tax in 2009 and it did not pass, so we are here again in 2017 in the hopes that we can get this done.”

Sims also pointed out that many of the surrounding counties and cities have increased the Hotel/Motel Tax up to 8 percent, including Milledgeville, Athens, Conyers, and Covington.

According to Sims, the increased tax rate, paid by lodging guests, would allow the CVB to do enhance its digital campaign to promote tourism in Madison and Morgan County.

Mike Conrads also appeared before the city council on behalf of the Madison-Morgan Lodging Association, a board of hoteliers against the proposed increase.

“We would ask you that you table this today,” said Conrads. “We are very much opposed to moving forward quickly on this…We are on the frontlines. We have to deal with frustrated customers who come in and we have to be the ones to pacify them. If this angers them, they won’t come back…We are frustrated that this is being pushed so quickly and there has not been a lot of input sought from the lodging groups.”

Conrads was not impressed with data indicating surrounding cities and counties have upped the Hotel/Motel Tax. 

“Just because the cool kids are doing it, doesn’t mean we should. Sixty-one percent of communities in Georgia are still at 5 percent or less,” countered Conrads.

The council asked Conrads and Sims to work together in coming weeks to see if a compromise could be reached before the council votes.

“They are welcome to provide input,” said Sims. “I need it and I appreciate it, but at the end of the day we set the budget and we set the marketing plan and we know where our money is best spent.”

Conrads agreed to meeting with the CVB but was hesitant to promise that any compromise could be reached.

“We can try, but we cannot promise anything,” said Conrads.

“We expect to see a firm plan, action items, budgeted dollar amounts and how we can measure success…we want to see evidence of the CBV’s effectiveness.”

City Manager David Nunn warned that such data would be difficult to obtain since many factors go into the ever-changing ebb and flow of the lodging business. “It would be difficult to determine that it’s a direct result of the CVB,’ said Nunn.

Madison Mayor Fred Perriman urged cooperating between the CVB and the lodging association, but said the matter would ultimately be decided by the council.

“We aren’t going to settle this today. We will wait to hear back about what you come up with in a few weeks. But we have to do what we think is best for the entire city,” said Perriman.

“It comes back to our city council. Do we want to increase this tax by 2 percent so our city can maintain what they are doing and hopefully, improve our future?”

If the council is to move forward with the increase, they have to vote to approve it by the second Monday in January in 2018 to make the state legislature’s deadline to finalize it.

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