Hotel tax: Big bucks are already under some watchful eyes

Tourism is the second most prolific industry in Pennsylvania, ranking only behind agriculture.

So it should come as no surprise that, when the Sun-Gazette recently did a two-day informational series on the hotel tax in Lycoming County, the dollars reported on were imposing.

And those dollars have grown significantly with the advent of the natural gas industry that brings many workers into local hotels and motels for relatively lengthy stays.

Hotel tax revenue in Lycoming County peaked at $1,012,854 in 2011, dropping with a lull in the gas industry in 2012 to $852,589. That’s still a big number. During 2012, the county’s tourism bureau, which operates as an arm of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, spent $945,347.

Of the spending, 21 percent went toward salaries, 6 percent on general administration, 55 percent toward tourism promotion, 12 percent on tourism grants and 6 percent on operations.

State Rep. Rick Mirabito, who represents much of our region, has pressed for more details on the spending and more accountability and transparency from the tourism bureau.

While he has every right and some would say a responsibility to question the operation and its execution, those questions would carry more weight if the circumstances were different.

There is a monitoring mechanism in place for the tourism bureau. It’s the Lycoming County commissioners, which meets often with the bureau and has access to all its financial dealings. We like that close-to-home setup and urge the commissioners to use thorough scrutiny of the tourism bureau operation, given the dollars involved.

And while other tourism bureaus operate independently, we wonder how capable the one here would be without any input or assistance from the chamber organization.

In the end, it’s OK to disapprove of how the money is used and press for more scrutiny. But at a certain point, the bottom-line question is: Is the bureau operating in the manner state and local regulations call for? If that’s the case and there is no other indication to this point the questioning becomes awkward and tiresome and we wonder what the real motive is.