Transparency with hotel tax revenues key to bureau trust

The Lycoming County Commissioners’ 2-1 vote last week to hike the local hotel tax from 3 to 5 percent drew understandable boos and jeers.

Lost in the political backlash are some important realities.

A 2016 state amendment to the county code gave the commissioners the opportunity to raise the hotel tax rate. The hike is $2 on every $100 hotel room charge.

It is not a tax on local residents or property owners. If it were, we would be opposing the increase.

At 5 percent, the hotel tax is lower than many similar levies in other counties and states.

The county Tourist Promotion Agency needs the money to adequately promote and facilitate projects for a region that counts on tourism dollars for a significant portion of its economy.

The agency receives its share of criticism because the visitors bureau is managed by a committee of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.

We don’t see another organization in the region that is geared to doing what the visitors bureau does.

We would suggest politicized examination of the bureau should be reserved for how the money generated by the tax is spent.

There have been suggestions a sports complex would be the benefactor of a hotel tax increase. At the commissioners meeting where the hotel tax rate increase was approved, it was suggested the area’s outdoor strengths, particularly its connection to the PA Wilds brand, deserve more attention.

That’s worth consideration.

Also suggested was that funding for the arts be considered, in keeping with a need identified in the county’ new comprehensive plan.

However tourism dollars are spent in the future, there needs to be complete public vetting. Distrust by some of the bureau’s operations has led to much of its opposition.

We don’t share that view. To date the bureau has earned the trust that led Commissioners Jack McKernan and Tony Mussare to approve the increase in the hotel tax rate. Commissioner Rick Mirabito, a frequent critic of the bureau, voted against the hotel rate hike.

To maintain that trust of Mussare, McKernan and county residents, the bureau needs to remain more transparent than ever with how it uses its increasing revenues in the future