Authority seeking more of bed tax

A decision on how to divide Blair County’s bed tax revenue will likely return to commissioners because a pair of entities interested in sharing the money have been unable to reach an agreement.

Explore Altoona, formerly known as the Allegheny Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau, has been receiving the bed tax revenue, currently about $520,000 a year, and setting aside 12 percent or about $60,000 toward a Blair County Convention Center loan.

But the county’s Convention Center and Sports Facilities Authority wants a larger portion of the bed tax revenue because as of Aug. 1, it begins managing the convention center, a task previously handled by the bureau.

The two entitles agreed earlier this year to pursue independent operations.

In an authority meeting Wednesday, Solicitor David P. Andrews said that the Explore Altoona board has twice voted in support of a 75-25 split of the bed tax revenue, with Explore Altoona claiming the larger portion.

Authority Chairman Richard Karcher said he was hoping that the two groups could agree on a 50-50 split.

When authority member Dan Taddei asked Andrews about possibly “working something out,” Andrews replied: “Absolutely not.”

Commissioner Ted Beam Jr., who was at the authority’s meeting, said he will advise the county’s chief clerk to bring the matter to commissioners. State legislation permitting the levy of a bed tax, paid by those who stay at local lodging facilities, assigns responsibilities concerning the tax to county commissioners.

“There’s no bed tax unless the county levies the tax,” Andrews said.

Beam said commissioners had hoped the parties would reach an agreement but were aware that if they didn’t, a decision would fall to them.

“I want to get it cleared up and spelled out, as to who gets what,” Beam said.

As for prior distributions, Andrews said Explore Altoona referred to a document signed in 2006 by then-Commissioner Barry Wright, indicating that the bureau should receive two-thirds of the bed tax revenue and that the authority should get one-third. Before 2006, another document indicated that the bed tax revenue was to be divided with two-thirds going to the authority and one-third to the convention and visitors bureau.

If the authority was to be paid one-third since 2006, that would have been more than the 12 percent it has been receiving, Karcher said.

When contacted Wednesday, Wright recalled a change in the bed tax formula distribution but not the specifics.

“I can remember of a change being made, because I think we felt the debt on the [convention center’s] loan was being paid adequately,” Wright said.

When asked for an explanation of Explore Altoona’s position concerning the bed tax, Executive Director Mark Ickes said his organization is responsible for marketing “the entire variety of Blair County’s tourism product.”

He said Explore Altoona offered a memorandum to commissioners in April, recommending the 75-25 split based on the organization’s core missions, its programs and its past. It affirmed that recommendation at a meeting held last week.

“The board feels we’ve been excellent stewards for the county,” Ickes said.

Ickes also indicated that Explore Altoona’s board and staff “have consistently advocated for and have implemented effective use of hotel tax dollars as outlined in House Bill 157 to be used for the purpose of leisure/business travel marketing and convention/meeting marketing and is to be distributed to the county’s officially designated and recognized tourism promotion agency.”

When the authority met in June, it voted in favor of a 2013-14 budget of $1.3 million in revenue and $1.44 million in expenses. An estimated $136,000 shortfall was to be addressed after a division of the bed tax revenue was resolved. Beyond the shortfall, the budget identified two additional expenses: $61,666 toward the principal and interest on convention center debt, typically paid with bed tax revenue, and an unfunded $50,000 for capital expenses.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.