NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County commissioners want to pass a local version of the hotel occupancy tax they hope will close a loophole that is costing the county money.
Commissioners say they're losing tax revenue due the county because Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort does not collect the 6 percent tax on so-called comp, or complimentary, rooms.
"Mountaineer's giving away an awful lot of rooms - thousands a month," Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller said.
As a result, commissioners say the county is losing tens of thousands of dollars in anticipated revenue. In the fiscal year just ended, the county had projected revenue in the amount of $300,000 but ended up receiving $215,000.
"We lost $537,000 in four years," Swartzmiller said. Revenue from the tax has been declining since 2009, when the county collected $465,000 from the tax.
Revenues from the tax are split evenly between Hancock County and the Top of West Virginia Convention & Visitors Bureau, which covers Hancock and Brooke counties and the city of Weirton. The money is used mostly to promote tourism in Hancock County.
Commissioners had been considering legal action against Mountaineer but decided recently in favor of legislation. They have directed legal counsel Bill Fahey to have the ordinance ready by the July 19 commissioners meeting.
"This would be a true occupancy tax: If the room is occupied, you pay the tax," Swartzmiller said.
The ordinance, if approved, would not be a tax increase but a way to ensure that the 6 percent tax is collected on every occupied room, Swartzmiller said.
Mountaineer General Manager Chris Kern echoed previous comments that that amounts to charging a tax for free services. Commissioners disagree, saying they believe the tax should be charged whenever a room is occupied, regardless of whether it is paid for.
"We have sought and received an advisory opinion from the (West Virginia) Department of Revenue that supports our current practice," Kern said. "Imposing additional taxes on the county's largest employer will neither create jobs nor benefit the citizens of the county."
Since 1985, West Virginia counties and cities have had the authority to impose a local hotel occupancy tax.
The tax is collected by the hotel operator as part of the consideration paid for the occupancy of the room. "Consideration paid" is defined by the state as the amount received in money, credits, property or other consideration for, or in exchange for, the right to occupy a hotel room.
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