Our opinion: The TPA dilemma

The order was for an audit. What the Warren County Commissioners got was something else, something less.

The 2007 law that covers tourist promotion agencies and their right to bed tax revenue seems clear that an audit has to be done annually and presented to the commissioners. Yet an audit apparently hasn’t been done for several years.

Warren County’s current TPA, the Warren County Visitors Bureau, has said that, until the commissioners pressed the issue in the context of debate over the past few months, the county’s triumvirate was “a-okay” with something else, something less.

We suspect, like the commissioners (who claim to know), that Warren County is not getting the bang for its bed tax bucks from the WCVB. However, we also suspect that the commissioners, both this board and previous boards, have been at least partly responsible for that short-coming through a failure in oversight.

It appears clear from the enabling legislation that county board of commissioners, which awards the TPA designation in the first place and is required to receive an annual audit from the TPA, is expected to exert some supervision in exchange for bed tax revenue. In Warren County’s case, that amounts to about $140,000 a year and represents the majority of the funding for the Visitors Bureau.

If an audit has been required for six years and the county is only now asking for one, then the county is six years late, and the blame for that lies with the commissioners.

Now, the commissioners are backed into a corner.

It has become clear from “unofficial” tallying of municipal board votes that the commissioners lack the required support county-wide to fire the Visitors Bureau and hire the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, which has an established Council on Tourism division that has been plugging away sponsoring events without the benefit of bed tax revenue.

Theoretically, unless the commissioners are content to remain with the status quo, they will have to take some action with regard to the bed tax in the early days of this new year.

There are legal questions as to whether they can escrow the money, as suggested by one commissioner, and the law is clear about the requirement of municipal support to change the designation.

It has also been suggested by some that they could simply repeal the 3 percent tax, which is hardly likely to boost hotel occupancy and would essentially put the Visitors Bureau out of business. That would leave the embarrassing spectacle of a “Sorry, Permanently Closed” sign on the marquee in front of the Visitors Center on Route 6.

All of these are poor options.

The commissioners will hold their first meeting of the year on Wednesday, and the TPA/bed tax issue must surely be an item on the agenda.