Centre County approves hike in hotel tax



BELLEFONTE — After a few months of discussion, presentations and talking points, the Centre County commissioners did the expected at Tuesday’s meeting when they unanimously approved Ordinance 1 of 2019 – otherwise known as the hotel room tax.

The newly-enacted tax will push the rate from 2.5 to 5 percent. It will go into effect on April 1.

Approval of Ordinance 1 of 2019 seemed like a foregone conclusion and each commissioner took some time to talk about the benefits of the tax.

Commissioner Steve Dershem, for example, went through a laundry list of organizations that have received grants as a result of the current hotel tax.

“Part of the conversation that we’ve had about this is that there have been grant recipients in the past that have been the beneficiary of the current hotel tax and I thought it would be useful if I went over last year’s grant recipients. There are literally dozens of organizations,” Dershem said.

Dershem’s list included well-known organizations, from the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts to some lesser-known organizations in Centre County, such as the Nittany Mountain Biking Association.

“There are 40 different groups and organizations that have benefited,” said commissioner Michael Pipe, “and that’s just a sliver.”

The hope, Pipe said, is that the grants will help marketing campaigns of the 40-plus groups.

“Since the inception of the program, millions of dollars have been dispersed to local non-profits to draw visitors to Centre County,” Pipe said.

But not everyone was sold on the tax. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Joe Soloski of Halfmoon Township said that the commissioners were making a mistake by adopting the tax.

“I’d like to make this short and sweet. I think you should come out against it,” Soloski said. “This is nothing more than a tax grab. You may already have the lowest or second-lowest (hotel tax) in the state. You may already have the second-lowest (hotel tax) of all Big Ten communities. I don’t think that’s what is really relevant here.”

Soloski said that he believes the commissioners need to find other ways to help promote the county to drive tourism.

“I look at the commissioners as the ultimate financial watchdogs for the county. You approve the budget. You watch costs. You watch spending. I believe we need to be cutting spending and cutting costs,” he said.

Soloski’s impassioned speech didn’t sway the commissioners as they unanimously approved the ordinance just moments later.

In other business, the commissioners:

r Approved a subgrant award notification from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) for the 2019 STOP Violence Against Women Project in the amount of $250,000. The grant is funded as follows: Federal award, $187,525 for the period of Jan. 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020 and state award $62,475 for the period of July 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2020.

r Discussed a contract with Axon Enterprise, Inc. to provide body cameras including equipment maintenance and software licensing for each camera. The cost of the first year is $11,445 and each subsequent year is $4,914 with the contract total of $31,101 for the period of March 1, 2019 through Feb. 29, 2024. Those contracts were moved to next week’s consent agenda.