Bed tax allocation decided

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County’s bed tax revenue will be divided so two-thirds is allocated to Explore Altoona and one-third is allocated to the convention center.

Blair County Solicitor Nathan Karn announced the division Tuesday at the weekly commissioners meeting where representatives of Explore Altoona and the authority center’s offered statements in support.

As recently as a week ago, Explore Altoona and the authority were at a stalemate on how to divide the bed tax revenue producing about $520,000 annually.

Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. thanked Karn for working with representatives of both groups.

“We finally got a resolution both sides can live with that I think will be a benefit to both,” Beam said.

The disagreement over how to divide the bed tax developed in recent months while Explore Altoona and the Blair County Convention Center and Sports Facilities Authority started planning for independent operations. While Explore Altoona, formerly the Allegheny Mountains Convention and Visitors Bureau, has operated the convention center on behalf of the authority since 2001, a decision was announced earlier this year to end that role on Thursday when the current operating agreement expires.

In preparation for the division, Explore Altoona took a position that it should get 75 percent of the revenue to use toward promoting all of the area’s tourism options and that 25 percent could be allocated for the convention center.

The convention center authority wanted more than 25 percent to put toward operating expenses, future building maintenance and to cover annual debt payments, currently $61,000 annually.

Authority Chairman Richard Karcher said he was satisfied with the division and expects the convention center will be able to make ends meet with the one-third allocation.

Jane Sheffield, Explore Altoona executive board member, said the organization will build a budget based on the two-thirds allocation.

Explore Altoona Executive Director Mark Ickes, who said he prepared several scenario budgets in light of the pending decision, said he will be glad to direct its entire allocation toward travel and tourism.

Karn said the county treasurer, who is responsible for collecting and distributing the bed tax revenue, will be directed to write two checks, one for Explore Altoona and one for the authority.

Both parties agreed to that arrangement, Karn said, and it’s acceptable to First Common wealth Bank, which issued the original construction loan that was guaranteed based on future bed tax revenue.

Beam said he is optimistic about the future of both organizations and expects the convention center will be able, through good marketing, to build up business and find ways to bring in new revenue.

If the convention center has difficulty making ends meet, Karcher said the authority could return to commissioners for help. But there’s also a developing interest in seeing the bed tax increased from its current 3-percent levy, an action that could help both the convention center and Explore Altoona, Karcher said.

Today, in Harrisburg, the state House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee will review a proposal allowing select counties, including Blair, the option of increasing the rate as high as 5 percent.