County eyes hike in bed tax

Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Services President and CEO John Detwiler spoke in favor of raising the county’s lodging tax at the Seneca County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

Detwiler said the lodging tax was established 23 years ago at 2 percent.

“A lot has changed, as I’m sure you will agree, in the landscape since that first tax was enacted,” he said.

Townships, municipalities and counties can levy up to a 3-percent lodging tax on transient business.

Detwiler said Seneca County brought in $69,212 with the tax in 2011. Fostoria Convention and Visitor’s Bureau receives $6,000 of that income annually, resulting in a total of about $63,000 to generate visitors’ services.

He also said that at the beginning of the year, Clinton Township’s percentage will increase from 1 percent to 2 percent.

All taxes from townships, such as Clinton and Hopewell, and municipalities, such as Fostoria and Tiffin, are moved to the respective entity’s General Fund and are not diverted to fund visitor services.

The tax also is capped at a total of 6 percent.

“You cannot exceed a maximum of 6 percent,” Detwiler said. “For any combination, be that county and township, be that city and county, 6 percent is the maximum for all entities.”

Detwiler said if the county increased the tax from 2 percent to 3 percent, about $35,000 more would be generated annually. Based on an average room rate of $100, the tax would add about $1 to visitors’ hotel bills per night.

Detwiler said the increased income could be used to run a more effective campaign to bring visitors to Seneca County.

He said $4,000 was spent on advertising to run a campaign for four weeks on cable. Although he could not measure the effectiveness of the cable campaign, the county would see the potential increase through the totals of the lodging tax.

Detwiler said local hotel and motel owners were receptive to the tax, as the income would help in bringing more visitors to Tiffin.

A tax increase would not affect residents since it is a lodging tax for visitors.

Commissioners’ President Jeff Wagner said he appreciated Detwiler’s and the chamber’s research and what they have done for the county. He said Detwiler made a good case, but he could not support the tax increase.

“Every new or increased tax is a tax (with) an increased cost to somebody,” he said. “My personal opinion is we’re taxed enough. We’ve got enough taxes and enough government.”

Commissioner Fred Zoeller asked to include in a potential resolution annual presentations to the board to see whether the increase is effective.

Zoeller also asked whether the tax could be rescinded, and Detwiler said he would find that information before the board votes on a resolution.

Seneca County Soil and Water Conservation District Program Administrator Tia Rice spoke to the board regarding a $20,000 increase in funding for the program.

She said in 2008, the county provided $155,000 for the district program, while the state match was 97 percent.

Now, Rice said the program is budgeted at $130,000, with an additional $10,000 from flood plain management and a 76 percent state match.

“We’ve really not only just dropped in county funding but also at the state-matched portion,” she said.

For the past three years, employees have been paid for 76 hours of the 80 they work for each pay period and receive 13 days of unpaid furlough, she said.

Rice said the $20,000 increase would help restore pay for the four hours of unpaid work each pay period and assist in funding for three employees on family insurance plans.

She said the district program is working toward additional grants for funding.

The board is to consider her request.

In other business, Emergency Medical Services Director Ken Majors said EMT recognitions are going well.

Commissioner Holly Stacy said she thought the events have exceeded expectations. Majors agreed and said it is an effective way of making local elected officials aware of the work EMTs have completed and the requirements of maintaining the services.

Zoeller also suggested creating a five-year plan for EMS improvements.

Stacy said the planning of a 2014 Jobs Fair is under way for May. She said U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan could be in Seneca County for a portion of the event.

The board moved to executive session to consider the appointment, employment, dismissal, discipline, promotion, demotion or compensation of a public employee or official.

Due to a scheduling conflict, next week’s board meeting is moved to 10 a.m. Dec. 12.

In new business, the board approved:

A supplemental appropriation of $366.03 for the VOCA Grant Fund.

A supplemental appropriation of $80 for the VOCA Expansion Project Fund.

Appropriation adjustments of $5,900 within the General Fund.

An appropriation adjustment of $9,400 within the General Fund.

A resolution reappointing Bryan Rannigan to the County Law Library Resources Board, term expiring Dec. 31, 2017.

A resolution authorizing the memorandum of agreement for deposit of public funds with Old Fort Bank on behalf of the Seneca County Treasurer, retroactive to Oct. 16.

A resolution extending the agreement/contract with Pictometry International Corp. for the Digital Aerial Photography of Seneca County and license of Pictometry-100 on behalf of the Seneca County auditor and authorizing Wagner to sign any related documentation retroactive to April 26.

Bill vouchers.