Bed tax hike likely for fall ballot

Revenue generated would pay for fairground improvements

By Dustin Ensinger

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Delaware County commissioners are expected in the next two weeks to vote to place a tax measure on the November ballot that would benefit the county fair.

The measure would allow the Delaware County Agricultural Society to levy and collect a 3-percent lodging tax for a period of five years.

The additional tax would only be paid by people who stay in Delaware County hotels.

The revenue generated, if approved, would be used to make infrastructure improvements at the fairgrounds, which was constructed in 1938.

“In order for the Delaware County Fair and the agricultural society to move forward in the future, we have to update our infrastructure – roads, ADA restrooms, electrical grids, taps, hydrants,” said Chip Thomson, president of the organization that runs the annual fair. “All of that has to be done.”

The 3-percent bed tax could raise as much as $200,000 per year based on current occupancy rates, according to Thomson.

However, it is unclear if the additional lodging tax will be levied on the hotels in the Polaris area, which is in the city of Columbus, the entity that receives bed tax revenue from those hotels. There are 20 hotels in the county. However, just eight are located outside of Columbus. County officials have unsuccessfully tried to gain a share of the bed tax generated through those 12 Columbus hotels.

Commissioners Barb Lewis and Gary Merrell both indicated they would support the measure’s placement on the November ballot.

“You certainly see when you’re there how much needs to be done,” Lewis said.

A campaign committee, Friends of Your Delaware County Fair, has already been formed to support the measure. The group will be led by Larry Cline.

Cline said the additional tax would add about $3 to the cost of an average hotel room per night.

“You can’t go to Starbucks and get a cup of coffee for $3,” he said.

Thomson said he believes the measure will be approved by Delaware County voters because – like the county’s sales tax – it will largely impact visitors and not residents.

“I am confident that, if put on the ballot, we will be successful, because we are not asking the citizens for their money,” he said.

The provision that will allow the tax measure to be placed on the ballot was the work of Rep. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, who inserted a provision in the state budget to create a pilot program that allows county fairs that host harness races with a one-day attendance of 40,000 or more to levy a bed tax of up to 3-percent with voter approval.

Dustin Ensinger can be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @EnsingerDG.

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