Village committee debates pros and cons of room tax as state law changes take effect next year
While the Belgium Chamber of Commerce is proposing plans on how to spend hotel room tax money, the village’s Finance and Personnel Committee is wondering if the tax should continue.
A change in state law effective 2017 changes how the allowable 8% room tax may be spent. Municipalities may still keep 30% of the room tax money with the rest turned over to a tourism entity, which must spend 51% of all its revenues — tax or otherwise — to promote tourism.
Representing the Chamber, Richard Howells told the committee on May 16 the tourism entity is in place, as are ideas on promoting the village.
The committee, however, isn’t sure it wants to continue with the tax.
“I don’t think keeping a tax in place is a good idea,” committee chairman Andrew Ohlson said. “If it wasn’t there, would we go to the hotel and tax them for tourism? No.”
Howells said the plan is to eventually open a Chamber office part-time with the hopes to draw industrial and retail businesses.
“Nobody knows about Belgium. The only way people find us is if they’re driving up 43,” he said.
“If a business was interested in a startup, how are they going to find out about Belgium? We don’t advertise.”
While the committee agreed with the goal of promoting the village, it questioned using the room tax as the funding mechanism.
Village President Vickie Boehnlein said her concern is that Belgium has one hotel that would be solely funding the effort.
“Is it beneficial for the hotel?” she said. “If it’s a group of hotels, it’s one thing. It’s one guy.”
Ohlson said he had an issue with “the principle of the whole thing, making the hotel pay for all this marketing and advertising.”
Howells said the parent company of the hotel, Rodeway Inn, pays for advertising. The local owner does not advertise.
Boehnlein said the village could get “a competitive advantage to say that we don’t have a room tax.”
Howells said rooms at Rodeway Inn, even with the tax, are still cheaper than at other hotels in the area.
The committee suggested meeting with the owner of the hotel before making a recommendation to the Village Board at the June meeting.
“If he was to tell us he was indifferent or for it, I would be all for it,” Ohlson said.
“I would, too,” committee member Josh Borden said.
Howells reiterated the focus on marketing.
“All the businesses here want promotion,” he said. “They’re not getting any.
“We need to think bigger than we have been. Do we want to be Grafton or Saukville? No.”
But Howells said similarly sized New Glarus found a way to draw businesses and tourism through its Swiss-themed architecture and shops.
“They have a calling card. We can have a calling card,” he said.
The Chamber, he said, is on board.
“The idea is they want to get out there and promote Belgium like it never has before.”
The Village Board meets June 13.