Hotel-motel taxes complicated but it’s really all about ‘heads in beds’

Whoever gets to administer, control, guide, manage, fine tune, run, and direct Rockdale’s hotel-motel (HOT) tax funds—the city council is close to making a decision on that—they’ll be working within some very strict guidelines.

HOT funds aren’t like other tax funds. They can’t be tossed into the general fund to lower our tax rates. By law, they can only be used for specific purposes to directly promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry.

Here’s what’s allowed, and you’ll see some don’t really apply to Rockdale, at least yet:

• Funding convention center facilities, visitor information centers or both.

• Paying for furnishing, personnel and materials for registering convention delegates or registrants.

• Advertising, and other promotions, to attract tourists or conventions.

• Expenditures to promote the arts, defined as everything from music to movies to painting.

• Funding historical restoration or preservation projects or activities.

• In counties of one million or less—hint, we are—funding or promoting sporting events in which the majority of participants are tourists.

Now, within those fields, there are a number of legal definitions to be dealt with. For example, what exactly is a “tourist,” someone who spends the night or just drives over from Taylor to watch a football game?

Those are the kinds questions which have to be answered as our city goes forward with disbursing HOT funds in the future, no matter what form that disbursement takes.

While that part can get complicated, there’s a phrase that can sound a little too cute but it’s really profound—“heads in beds.”

That’s what a HOT tax is supposed to do, put “heads” (people who don’t live here) into “beds” (local motel rooms) because while they are here they will spend money, not just at the motels but everywhere.

And that’s really what it’s all about.—M.B.

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2014-05-08 digital edition

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