Bed tax in limbo at vote deadline

Today is deadline day.

For the Warren County Commissioners to change the county’s designated Tourism Promotion Agency in time for 2014, resolutions from a portion of municipalities representing 51 percent or more of the county’s population must be received by the end of the day today.

Early this month, according to Chief Clerk Pam Matve, only one resolution supporting the change from the Warren County Visitors Bureau to the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry had been received and that was from the City of Warren.

Commissioner Stephen Vanco said on Monday that “to my knowledge, we have not received any others.”

“We’re going to have to wait and see what we actually receive,” he said of the impending deadline.

Without reaching that 51 percent threshold in support of the change, the WCVB would continue as the county’s TPA in 2014 and continue to receive Hotel Occupancy Tax, or bed tax, funding.

Warren County Visitors Bureau Board President Karen Sobkowski claimed earlier this month that the WCVB had received over 50 percent support which, if true, would thwart the commissioner’s proposal.

Commissioner John Bortz suggested at a recent meeting that the commissioners could withhold the bed tax dollars rather than bestowing them upon an agency in the WCVB that he said is not “in full compliance with how their financials should be kept.”

He did not make a formal motion but suggested that the commissioners think about either abolishing the 3 percent bed tax or holding the funds in escrow.

While it is unclear whether the commissioners lawfully have such discretion, Vanco said “we aren’t done with the situation yet. (We) will address it again once we begin business in 2014.”

While he said that the law is “fairly explicit” in this area, and he is not sure how the commissioner’s will proceed, he did say that the county has yet to receive an audit from the WCVB.

Bortz expressed concern about the WCVB’s financial records in a meeting in November.

“Public dollars are being used by an agency that is not responsibly using those dollars, and as such, we as commissioners have the responsibility to use every available legal means within our authority to prevent those dollars going any further,” he concluded.

The state addendum to the county code enacted in 2007 regarding bed tax collection says “an audited report on the income and expenditures incurred by a tourist promotion agency receiving any revenues from the tax authorized under this section shall be submitted annually by the tourist promotion agency to the county commissioners.”