The Columbia Hospitality Association, which represents a majority of Columbia’s 36 hotels, motels and bed and breakfast venues in the city, announced Tuesday it will not support a 1 percent lodging tax increase unless the city comes forward with a specific financial plan on how it will use the money for business operations.
They said they’ve asked repeatedly for more information but haven’t gotten anything back.
“There’s a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers,” said Glyn Laverick, owner of the Tiger Hotel and president of the CHA. “We’ve got no way to prove one way or another whether this is a good idea. The CHA has to ask the question on behalf of hoteliers and really has to ask the question on behalf of taxpayers, ‘are we spending this money wisely?'”
Columbia city leaders said the tax increase would be used to pay for a $40 million upgrade to the current terminal at Columbia Regional Airport. The tax would be temporary, with a cap of 23 years, until the renovations are complete.
The federal government is expected to pay a majority of the renovations, but first the city must prove it can raise its share of the funds first.
“We seem to be the only definitive funding source in all of this,” Laverick said. “The FAA is on the slate to provide 50 percent of the funding but the city hasn’t even filed an application for that yet.”
They were also concerned about raising the tax from 4 percent to 5 percent without any guarantee of financial return.
“A concern from a hotel point of view is that the lodging tax is capped by the state at 5 percent,” he said. “If we make this increase then us hoteliers will have no further way to raise funds for much needed attractions.”
They mentioned an indoor sports complex or a convention center as being two options they believe would bring more return than improving the airport.
Hoteliers Tuesday also disputed the city’s claims that the airport is a huge economic driver for the city. They agreed it did bring economic benefits, but not enough to dedicate lodging tax proceeds to it.
“That lodging tax is to build tourism and to generate room nights to keep the money coming back in and the airport will not do that and it doesn’t do it now,” said Teri Weise, director of sales at the Holiday Inn Executive Center. “There’s not enough data to say that’s going to happen.”
Hotel owners also wondered if Jefferson City had been asked to contribute to the renovations, since 20 percent of passengers come from the Capitol City.
Mayor Brian Treece has also asked that same question in the past but so far there haven’t been any definite answers, according to hotel owners Tuesday.
The tax could be on the August ballot. The City Council will look at the ballot language of the tax this coming Monday.
The CHA said it hopes the council can table the vote on the tax until they have more specific information on how the lodging tax could best be used.
“This has gone from not being an issue on anybody’s radar, to it being an issue on everybody’s radar all at once in a matter of a few weeks,” said Laverick. “Why all of a sudden has this become something that’s so important to push through without a plan, without any way to really measure what it’s success will be, without any other airlines waiting in the wings to provide flights?”
So far, the Airport Advisory Board has voted to remain neutral until it has more information and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce just voted Tuesday morning to endorse the tax.