York tourism officials prepare for increased hotel tax
York County tourism is expected to see a funding boost soon from an increased hotel-occupancy tax that is projected to add approximately $1.2 million in annual revenue.
Act 18, which was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in April, allows 57 counties, including York, to increase their local hotel-occupancy tax from 3 percent to 5 percent. The York County commissioners voted to exercise that right in May.
Anne Druck, president of the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the county is expected to begin seeing revenues from that increase at the end of September.
The York Expo Center will receive 14 percent of the additional revenue, while the remaining balance will go to the bureau, which will put a portion of that money into a tourism grant program, according to a letter from the bureau's board chairwoman, Liz Winand.
Druck said Act 18 places additional requirements on how the grants are distributed, and a board-assigned task force has been working to develop a grant program that is in accordance with the law and beneficial to the county's tourism efforts.
For example, any organization that receives a grant must provide at least 25 percent in matching funds, according to the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. That means if the bureau awarded a $10,000 grant for municipal park improvements, the municipality would need to also provide at least $2,500 toward the project.
Druck said a grant committee will be put in place to discuss potential projects, but the bureau will have to issue final approval.
The committee will consist of Rob Berkebile, the bureau's treasurer; state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover; state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City and incoming president and CEO for the York County Economic Alliance; Gary Laird, president of the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce; representatives from York City and York County; and one member jointly appointed by the state legislative delegation and county, Druck said.
Springwood Hospitality CEO Dave Hogg, who was nominated by the delegation and county, said he will be looking to approve grants for any project that helps drive tourism.
"I like the new rules because there's no boxes you have to fit in to qualify as long as you can demonstrate the project can drive tourism," he said. "Tourism is a major economic driver."
Springwood currently owns and operates three hotels in York County with another in the works, and Hogg said there's been debate among local hotel owners about the tax increase.
The fear is that higher hotel occupancy taxes could cause visitors to stay in other nearby counties, but Hogg said he doesn't believe the slight increase will have a significant impact.
Adams County's tax was already at 5 percent, he added.
"If (the additional revenue) is invested wisely, it should drive business for everybody," Hogg said.
Druck said in the past that the bureau has authorized grants for renovations at Memorial Park, where softball tournaments bring in tourists, and Downtown Inc's rail trail enhancements. Both projects included matching grants by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, she added.
The bureau had been working on a plan to increase the county's hotel room occupancy tax since 2009 and with legislators since 2012, Druck said.
"It's been a long time coming," she said.