Cities' use of hotel tax spurs investigation

ATLANTA --- Pooler escaped a state probe on problems with how it uses its hotel-motel tax, but now Richmond Hill faces an investigation.

The state Hotel-Motel Tax Performance Review Board voted unanimously Monday to investigate Richmond Hill, near Savannah; Greensboro; and Buford, near Lake Lanier, because of repeated problems with how they handle the tax.

The panel also voted not to pursue investigations of three other cities, Pooler, Dillard and Rockmart, for complaints lodged against them last year. Time had expired for acting on the complaints by the time the panel received advice it was seeking from the Attorney General's Office.

"We've passed the point where we could make any judgment on these because we are after the deadline," said board member Janice W. Marshall, the president of Macon's convention and visitors bureau.

The new cities came to the board's attention when their annual audits raised questions about procedures for handling the money.

Nearly 300 local governments tax hotel and motel guests. State law requires that a portion of the funds be used to promote tourism and conventions.

If the review board finds that the local governments have continued to mishandle the funds after being instructed to change their procedures, it can recommend the state prohibit them from charging the tax.

Acting on advice from the attorney general, the board is instructing Dillard and Rockmart not to grant funds from the tax to community theaters, youth baseball leagues or chambers of commerce for their regular operations. The cities should have a contract stating how the funds will be used to lure visitors, the Law Department concluded.