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York officials' initiative to allow counties statewide the ability to raise hotel taxes for tourism funding purposes continued Wednesday morning when Anne Druck, president of the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, spoke on its behalf in front of a Senate committee.

Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, invited and introduced Druck to the Senate Committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development hearing, where the agenda called for a discussion of tourism funding and other topics.

Druck spoke in favor of House Bill 794, which would allow Pennsylvania counties to set their own hotel tax rates, which currently sit at 3 percent for most counties. York County officials have been lobbying for a change for several years.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, passed through committee last month and is expected to go before the entire House of Representatives this month, Druck said.

The bill wouldn't require any counties to raise the tax level, but would allow commissioners the ability to do so, up to 5 percent, Gillespie said.

Senate bill: Committee chair Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County, recently introduced similar legislation, Senate Bill 656, but Druck and her coalition hadn't had a chance to discuss the full language of that bill, she said.

During her testimony, Druck focused on the York Expo Center and the high expenses of bids to host sporting events, citing the recent successful bid to host the USA Wrestling Championships later this month and next year.

York's tourism efforts receive 80 percent of their budget from current hotel taxes, Druck said during her testimony. The remaining funds come from membership and program fees.

If a bill is passed and commissioners raise York's hotel taxes to 5 percent, county tourism officials project an increase of $700,000 in revenue, bringing the total to $2.6 million yearly.

Past versus present: Druck believes that additional revenue will lead to more events in the Expo Center and elsewhere around the county, she said, adding that money will also go toward grants and other tourism endeavors.

York County legislators have tried for several years to push across similar legislation, one of which nearly passed last year. Gillespie and Druck said they're more confident a bill will pass this year because it applies to the remaining 54 counties with a 3 percent hotel tax, as opposed to previous proposals that singled out York and a few other counties.

"I feel momentum is there and I feel very positive we'll get something approved on a statewide basis this year," Druck said.

Concerns: Pennsylvania Association of Travel and Tourism President and CEO Rob Fulton, who provided his testimony later in the hearing, said he believed certain language in the proposed bill would help specify more precisely where tourism funds could be allocated.

State level: Also being discussed during the hearing was Senate Bill 676, introduced by Ward, which would provide more funding for tourism efforts in Pennsylvania as a whole.

Fulton said the state's tourism efforts are quickly falling behind that of other states.

"The efforts of the counties on tourism are vital, but the ultimate solution must come on the state level," he said.

Druck echoed that sentiment.

"Other states are really trying to eat our lunch," she said. "They're investing millions to promote their tourism industry, and we're not, so we're going to lose market share."

—Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.

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