Bedford debates raising room tax

Visitors Bureau wants more funds to promote area

Updated May 10 to correct number of counties with a 5 percent room tax rate.

BEDFORD — A proposal by the Bedford County Visitors Bureau to raise the current room tax rate of 2 percent to 5 percent sparked debate about the bureau’s existence and the allotment of funds at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.

The suggested tax rate increase would go toward paid advertising, a grant fund for capital projects and a cooperative marketing grant program, according to Dennis Tice from the bureau.

“The increase would almost all go to paid outside advertising to target a three-hour radius and outside,” Tice said. “More visitors help the hotels, help the restaurants, help the gas stations, it helps everybody. And the beauty of it is there’s not a whole lot of county expenses when people come in and spend their money and leave. It’s a pretty efficient way of bringing money into the county.”

Tice said the current room tax rate brings in about $440,000 for the agency, and the higher tax rate would bring in an estimated $1.1 million.

Of the $1.1 million, the visitors bureau would budget $450,000 for paid advertisements with outside agencies, $272,000 for operations, $174,500 for promotional materials, $122,000 for printing, $100,000 for the program grant fund and $50,000 for the marketing grant program.

Lloyd Roach, a retired Bedford resident, strongly opposed the proposed tax increase, commenting on how he thinks the bureau uses passive promotion techniques and doesn’t do a lot for the community.

Roach said that he’s seen other county bureaus plan and promote events to attract out-of-town visitors to their regions. “During my four years in Bedford County, I have not seen any promotion of this kind provided by our visitors bureau other than the weekly guided tour of downtown Bedford.”

“A 150 percent increase in the occupancy tax is unnecessary. Much more can be done with the funds available,” Roach said. “The Bedford visitors bureau’s only mission is to direct most of its efforts to visitors who are already here. Will that methodology change with additional funds?”

He suggested using in-house advertising agencies, eliminating the visitors bureau and allotting funds from the current 2 percent room tax rate elsewhere.

Another attendee, Kathy Monsour, who owns and operates a sheep farm and vacation homes, expressed shock at Roach’s suggestion to eliminate the visitors bureau, defending the agency.

“I had these houses I didn’t know what to do with. So I went to Dennis,” Monsour said. “Without the Bedford County Visitors Bureau, I would not have a business. My business is vibrant. It brings people into the county on a weekly basis.”

She added that she’s talked with visitors who said they appreciate the services the visitor bureau offers. “As a whole, to eliminate the visitors bureau in town would be a huge detriment to our visitors coming in.”

Others present at the meeting also expressed favor for the bureau and the proposed lodging tax increase.

Melinda Zongor, National Museum of the American Coverlet director and Bedford resident, said she hears the museum’s visitors compliment the bureau’s brochures on a regular basis. “If you eliminate the visitors bureau, then you cannot collect any room taxes at all because of the way the law is written.”

“If that money doesn’t come in,” she continued, “then the funding for things we do around town will have to come from somewhere else. It’s going to have to come from a local source.”

A representative for some nonprofit organizations at the meeting questioned some of the proposal’s financial figures and where the funding was going.

“I think some of the figures are a bit skewed on the $450K,” Debra Dankle with the Mid State Trail and Huntingdon and Broad Top Rail Trail said. “Perhaps for programs for nonprofits, I could see an increase.”

Commissioner Josh Lang said there has been great dialogue on the tax increase proposal and that he encourages more public input.

There are more than 30 counties, including Blair County, that have a room tax rate of 5 percent currently, according to the visitors bureau.

Mirror Staff Writer Shen Wu Tan is at 946-7457.