Mirabito pushes for changes with hotel tax; Chamber says story getting old

A handful of people turned out for state Rep. Rick Mirabito’s, D-Williamsport, town hall Thursday night at the Loyalsock Township Volunteer Fire Co.

While he discussed state issues such as natural gas drilling, funding the budget and cuts to the education budget, the legislator once again continued to question the operations of the Lycoming County Visitors Bureau, its relationship to the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and how the bureau uses hotel tax funds that are generated in Lycoming County.

Since 2000, the county’s hotel tax has generated about $5.8 million.

Mirabito said he has questions about how hotel tax money is being used after amounts for administration, advertising and tourism grants are taken out of that total.

He claims that the money is being used inappropriately to pay chamber and visitor bureau salaries and loaned to private businesspeople affiliated with the chamber and visitors bureau.

“What are we doing with the extra money?” he said.

“Based on the IRS documents we’ve seen, we think what they’re doing is, they are supplementing the chamber salaries with the visitors bureau tax monies,” Mirabito said.

He said he became involved with the issue after hearing concerns from constituents that they were not able to place marketing materials in the visitors information center on William Street because they were not members of the chamber or visitors bureau.

“I’m asking questions because I’m a state elected official,” Mirabito told the group of five people.

He also once again called for the visitors bureau and chamber to separate their affiliations with each other and to be more transparent with their financial records.

Vincent J. Matteo, president and CEO of the chamber, said he is growing weary of Mirabito’s remarks that he said have not been backed up with facts.

“It’s not getting any momentum,” Matteo said of the legislator’s calls for change.

In fact, Matteo said that Mirabito has been invited on more than one occasion to meet with the chamber’s executive board of directors to share his concerns, but he never did.

“This is just more of the same from Representative Mirabito. He refuses to meet with the chamber executive committee to discuss his concerns,” said Matteo. “His call for the separation of the visitors bureau from the chamber just lends credence that this is all part of a plan for him to gain control of the room tax money.”

Matteo added that the hotel tax has been instituted by the county, over which it has authority.

“This is not a state tax; this is a local tax,” he said.

As requested, the chamber and visitors bureau have supplied Mirabito with yearly audits going back to 2004, according to Matteo.

In addition, Matteo said that the chamber and visitors bureau has and continues to operate under the correct legal procedures and has not violated any laws regarding administration of the hotel tax and use of its visitors center.

“We report to the people we are supposed to,” he said.

Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff C. Wheeland, previously said that the board of commissioners – which is responsible for how the hotel tax is used in the county – is supportive of the chamber and visitors bureau and their relationship.

He said the county has no plans on changing how it’s used and how tourism promotion is managed within Lycoming County.