Centre still mulling increase in hotel occupancy tax

BELLEFONTE — In their first meeting of 2019, the Centre County Commissioners talked extensively about a proposed hotel occupancy tax.

The tax is being considered under the title of Ordinance 1 of 2019. Centre County previously authorized the collection of a hotel tax through Ordinance 2 of 1997, which was thereafter amended under several different ordinances. If adopted, the hotel occupancy tax in Centre County would rise from 2.5 to 5 percent.

At the present time, Centre County has the second lowest hotel tax in the commonwealth.

“I just want to reiterate, that this tax, when imposed would be on people traveling from outside the region and is not something that Centre County residents would expect to pay,” said Fritz Smith, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re very confident that with these dollars … that this would create jobs and have an economic impact for Centre County. It would be positive for all concerned.”

Smith believes the tax increase would have a significant benefit for all those involved.

Commissioner Michael Pipe compared Centre County to its neighbors – Blair, Cambria, Juniata and Mifflin counties. In 2016, he said, their hotel occupancy tax increased from 3 percent to 5 percent.

“They actually saw $4 million dollars of increased spending in each of their counties,” Pipe explained. “These counties are very similar to us … and they aren’t seeing a decrease in traveler spending. They’re actually seeing an increase.”

Commissioner Mark Higgins compared Centre County to other Big Ten schools.

“Currently, of the counties that have Big Ten schools throughout the nation, we have the lowest tax. There are 14 Big Ten schools and with this increase, we would now be the second lowest,” Higgins said.

One of the sticking points of the tax is how it would effect non-traditional rentals, such as Airbnb and campgrounds.

Commissioner Steve Dershem said that he has some concerns about the tax.

“There needs to be fairness,” Dershem said. “There needs to be a level playing field.”

If approved, the tax will also be used to provide grants to nonprofits for events and initiatives to drive tourism.

The ordinance will be revised and then posted for 10 days.

In the end, the commissioners unanimously agreed to consider the ordinance. In short, the ordinance hasn’t passed – but it’s getting closer to reality.

In other business, the commissioners:

r Approved a submission of payment request No. 1 to the Department of Community and Economic for disbursement of funds from the Development Keystone Communities Grant in the amount of $34,000 for installation of a meter pit by the Mountaintop Regional Water Authority.

r Approved an agreement with Weiss Burkardt Kramer LLC allowing Janet Burkhardt to provide representation in a tax appeal case. Services will be billed at an hourly rate of $150 per hour in increments of one-tenth of an hour.

The commissioners also pushed several items to the consent agenda:

r Intergovernmental housing agreement with Schuykill, Huntingdon, Elk and Lycoming Counties. The contract rate is $65 per day for the period on Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2019.

r Revision to the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) Federal Fiscal Year 2014 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Competitive Grant Budget to reallocate $31,597.43 remaining in the Rebersburg Homeowner Lateral Replacement Activity to be transferred to the Rebersburg Main Street Waterline Replacement Activity. This will increase the project total from $591,500 to $623,097.43.

r Submission of an Insurance Renewal Application to the Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool (PCoRP) to establish rates for 2019-2020.

r Contract renewal with the Center for Alternatives in Community Justice (CACJ). The contract includes the pre-trial release program ($136,086), Youth Aid Panel ($2,500) and Mediation Custody Court Program. CACJ is requesting that time spent in court and travel expense be paid ($3,969). The pre-trial release program is funded equally by the Court and Correctional Facility ($68,043). The contract total is $142,555 for the period of Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2019.