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Panel restarts talks on hotel tax

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The idea of a new tax on hotel and motel stays isn’t dead, and a group is working to answer the questions and address the concerns that stalled the proposal earlier this year.

A group of county council members who voted no to the innkeeper’s tax have formed a group with other economic development officials to research the county’s best attractions and ways to promote them. Their goal is to answer questions about how the money from an innkeeper’s tax would be spent, before presenting their findings to the community and county council members who may vote on the tax again.

An innkeeper’s tax would enact a 5 percent tax on hotel and motel bills in the county. Council members who voted no to the tax had concerns about not having a specific plan in place for how to spend the money collected. Supporters argued that the council only approves the tax, and a visitors and tourism bureau would be created that would decide how to spend the money.

The council’s concerns about how the money would be spent should have been considered more, said Christian Maslowski, Greater Greenwood Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer and a member of

the committee.

“We were stuck on the process and telling the council it’s their job to get the process going,” he said. “The council doesn’t have the responsibility as far as what the (visitor and tourism bureau) looks like, but they were being asked to adopt a new tax and open that

new revenue.”

Concern over how money from the tax would be spent was one of the main focuses of the group’s first meeting, Commissioner Ron West said.

He was joined on the committee by county council members Beth Boyce, Jim Eckart and Brian Walker and representatives from the Greenwood chamber, Johnson County Development Corp. and Aspire Johnson County. Only three council members can be present at one time or the meeting would have to be open to the public.

To better understand how that money could be spent, the committee discussed which attractions in Johnson County should be promoted the most. Council members then would have an idea of how much it would cost to promote those attractions and if an innkeeper’s tax is the best way to pay for that.

“This is a good way to talk big picture,” said Boyce, who is organizing the committee. “We did not discuss details of the ordinance. We communicated with each other about our goals and visions of what happens if we pass this and what would you do with the money.”

Property values, schools, and the parks and trail systems were mentioned as highlights of Johnson County, West said. But only parks and trails systems would be considered a tourism attraction.

Instead of creating a visitor and tourism bureau under a new innkeeper’s tax, West tossed out the idea of creating a county chamber of commerce. The cities of Franklin and Greenwood each have a chamber of commerce, but there is not one that supports the entire county. A county chamber of commerce would help promote local businesses and organizations and could be funded in part by membership fees paid for by those groups, West said.

The committee will meet again in private, but residents may be able to attend meetings at some point, Boyce said.

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