Delaware County voters will get to decide Tuesday whether a 3 percent bed tax can be imposed on guests staying in order to make improvements at the county fairgrounds. County hotels over a five-year period on March 15.
The five-year bed tax, if approved, is expected to generate $200,000 annually which would be earmarked for infrastructure improvements to the fairgrounds, according to a fact sheet issued by the “Friends of Your Delaware County Fair.”
Bonds issued against bed tax income could go toward electrical grid upgrades, safety repairs to the grandstands, improvements to buildings, roads, plumbing, storm sewer drainage, and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restrooms.
The Delaware County Fairgrounds were first built in 1938, with several buildings nearly 80 years old.
Without the improvements, Delaware County Agricultural Society members have said the future of the 79th annual county fair and its premiere event, the 71st annual Little Brown Jug harness race, could be in jeopardy. The fair is also a training ground for more than 1,200 members of the 4-H program.
Society members say the revenue will not go to harness racing purses, salaries or operations. Disbursement of funds would be controlled by the county administrator. The fair is audited by the state every two years.
The society “does not want to tax the hard-working citizens of Delaware County,” president Frank J. Reinhard wrote in a letter to the editor. “The voters of Delaware County will have an opportunity to provide long-term capital that will improve your fairgrounds. The year-around economic impact to Delaware County from the fairgrounds is several million dollars per year, not only from the week-long fair, but the horse shows and sales, equipment auctions and other events.”
A study conducted by Ohio Wesleyan University in 2008 said the fairgrounds generates more than $6.5 million to the county’s economy.
The society says the plan has the support of OWU, county commissioners, Delaware City Council, the Farm Bureau and the Delaware Area Chamber of Commerce.
However, the bed tax is opposed by the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association.
“Raising the bed tax by the proposed amount will make the county’s total tax at checkout 16 percent — higher than many areas of the state and the nation, and a competitive disadvantage with other nearby counties and Polaris-area hotels,” writes Lodging Association executive director Joe Savarise in a letter to the editor. The Delaware County Agricultural Society counters that the total tax at checkout would be 6 or 9 percent, depending on the area, still below Franklin County’s 10 percent.
“Lodging taxes do cost the communities where they are levied,” Savarise writes. “Not only is there a direct impact on local citizens who may stay overnight in a lodging property – and family and friends who may visit them – but there is also a cost to the businesses of that community and the citizens they employ. Higher taxes are also a major consideration for companies when deciding whether to build new hotels.”
Savarise cited a study by the U.S. Travel Association that nearly half of all travelers will change their plans due to high taxes.
“Hotel visitors produce a tremendous additive effect to the local economy, spending additional dollars at restaurants, retail establishments, gas stations and many other businesses,” he wrote. “Any action which inhibits economic development and healthy growth in the hotel market also affects every employee of those businesses.”
While he said the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association values the fairgrounds and the events it hosts, Savarise said it “supports alternative funding sources that are available and can provide a better, more sustainable stream of revenue for the facilities-related projects and maintenance at the fairgrounds,” which it championed during the legislative debate on the bill that put the measure on the ballot.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.