Moultrie Observer

Local News

February 28, 2012

City OKs tax increase to benefit tourism

Legislature must now vote on resolution

MOULTRIE — Some 30 people sat in the audience Tuesday as the Moultrie City Council considered an increase in the hotel-motel bed tax that funds local tourism efforts. Two-thirds of them indicated they were in support of the increase.

The council voted Feb. 8 to ask the General Assembly to increase the tax paid by guests at Moultrie hotels and motels from 5 percent to 7 percent.

Some local innkeepers expressed concern afterwards that no one had sought their input. In response, the city held a public hearing and a second vote Tuesday to affirm the resolution.

The city currrently collects a 5 percent tax that is split between Moultrie Main Street and the Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce. If approved by the legislature, this resolution would add 2 percent to that, part of which is expected to benefit the Colquitt County Arts Center

The tax has a limited list of beneficiaries, and since Arts Center Director Jeff Ophime learned two years ago that arts centers qualify, he has been urging the city council to approve such an increase.

“We struggle at the arts center, trying to do a good job,” Ophime told the council, citing praise from state arts officials and visitors as well as awards recently received by arts center-related groups. “We have an amazing arts center that’s always looking for support.”

As he finished his presentation, Ophime asked everyone who was at the meeting in support of the arts center to stand. Of the 29 people in the audience, 22 stood.

Seven other speakers addressed the council, all in support of the tax hike, including a representative of Cocomo Inn on First Avenue Southeast.

“Any increase in tourism leads to an increase in hotel occupancy, and that’s my job,” said Suraj Shely.

Shely said the tax is not a burden to the guests because it will amount to one to two dollars per guest. Nor is it a burden to hotels and motels because it is passed entirely to the guests.

He even urged the council to increase the tax to 8 percent instead of the proposed 7. Hotels currently pay a 7 percent tax to the state, and an 8 percent local tax would make 15 percent total, which would make accounting easier. Council made no motion along those lines, however.

The resolution will be forwarded to state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, for introduction as local legislation. City attorney Mickey Waller said the legislature will most likely consider it before the end of the current session, and if it passes the tax should start being collected by the end of March. Distribution will require a contract with the recipients — presumably the arts center — and Waller said that is not prepared yet.

The arts center has requested public funding for years because of the high cost of maintaining its building, which was the old Moultrie High School, built in 1922.

Alex Morton, who is involved with building and grounds work at the arts center, told the council the 50,000-square-foot building needs a new roof, exterior paint, and repairs to both the electrical and the heating and air conditioning systems.

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