Originally created 08/06/99

Officials near hotel tax solution



Columbia County and the Augusta Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau are still wrangling over how to divide funding from the county's hotel/motel taxes.

New motels along Interstate 20 in Columbia County have nearly doubled hotel/motel tax collections, which historically were handed over to the CVB in exchange for promotional services.

But when the contract between the two groups expired in December, Columbia County officials decided some of those funds are better kept in the county.

The hotel/motel tax, collected specifically to promote tourism, is an additional 5 percent the county levies on each hotel or motel bill. Two new motels opened in Columbia County in 1998, nearly doubling collections from the previous year.

Since the contract expired, the county has reduced its contributions to the bureau from 80 percent to 40 percent as an interim measure.

Now officials say a permanent solution is near.

"Two years ago we paid $46,266, and last year it jumped to $82,149, and we felt like that was an excessive amount," said County Commission Chairman Jim Whitehead, who also represents Columbia County on the Augusta Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau's board of directors.

"We felt like $40,000 is a fair amount, but they came back and asked us for 40 percent or $60,000, whichever is greater," he said. "They feel like what they do for us justifies that amount."

In 1997, hotel/motel tax collections were $46,266.05 and the county paid 100 percent of that to the CVB, said Leanne DeLoach, Columbia County director of financial services.

In 1998, collections jumped to $100,851.60, and the county lowered its contribution to less than 82 percent, or $82,149.79.

So far this year, the county has collected $77,819.99 in hotel/motel tax and has contributed 40 percent, paying $30,691.55 to date.

"We need to continue our relationship with them, but we've got to gauge the amount of money vs. the services they provide," said Frank Spears, chairman of Columbia County's Community and Emergency Services Committee.

The issue is scheduled for debate at Monday's meeting of the Community and Emergency Services Committee, which has been asked to recommend contract specifications to the full county commission.

"I've been trying to get together a complete picture of how those funds will be spent, and I haven't really seen that complete picture," said Pat Farr, the committee's vice chairman. "I want to know how those dollars are being spent and if they're being spent in the best interest of Columbia County."

Although a formal agreement has not been reached, the CVB has continued to provide promotional services for Columbia County, said Barry White, executive director of the visitors bureau.

Columbia County is marketed through CVB publications such as the golf brochure, visitors guide, meeting facilities guide and in a brochure about Columbia County, he said.

The CVB also represents the county at trade shows and in advertising.

"If we had no relationship, no formal agreement with Columbia County, it would be a terrible loss," Mr. White said. "To have some of the resources that Columbia County has and not be able to talk about them would be terrible."

Melissa Hall can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113 or melhall@augustachronicle.com.

Tax money

Hotel/motel tax collected

1997: $46,266.05

1998: $100,851.60

1999 to date: $77,819.99

Amount paid to CVB

1997: 100 percent

1998: 81 percent, $82,149.79

1999 to date: 40 percent, $30,691.55