York County commissioners up hotel tax
It's rare, if ever, there's applause after elected officials vote to increase a tax rate.
But just after the York County commissioners voted Wednesday to hike the tax charged to people who rent hotel rooms, the sound of clapping hands filled the commissioners' meeting room.
"I know this has been a long time coming and this will benefit everyone," said Susan Byrnes, the president commissioner.
The commissioners' unanimous approval to up the tax, dubbed the hotel tax and used to spur on tourism, from 3 percent to 5 percent officially ended a yearslong effort, spearheaded by Yorkers, in the state General Assembly to allow counties to increase their rate.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a native of York County, signed the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Hellam Township, about a month ago.
Anne Druck, president of the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau, noted after the meeting that the bill may not have gained the much needed, albeit delayed, traction in Harrisburg if not for a sect of vocal and supportive Yorkers, including its delegation of lawmakers and others.
"If it wasn't for York, I wouldn't know where we would be," she said after the meeting. "I wouldn't want to think where it would be without the support from York."
What it does: County and tourism officials expect to see a financial windfall after the new 5 percent rate takes effect on July 1.
Doug Hoke, the vice president commissioner, said about $1.8 million was collected annually under the 3 percent rate, but the new rate is expected to bring in $3.2 million.
The more than $1 million in added revenue will be used to increase efforts to attract tourists to the county.
About $800,000 of the overall tax revenue will be used for a tourism grant fund, which would be distributed annually to several organizations. Another portion, about $360,000, would go to one of the largest tourist destinations: the York Expo Center, which is still paying down millions of dollars in debt it incurred when it built the Utz Arena in 2003. The remaining money would be used to promote tourism efforts.
"It's going to benefit a lot of people," Hoke said.
The expo center, which hosts events nearly every weekend, was specifically named as a funding recipient because it draws thousands of people to the county, he said.
Hotel tax: The county instituted its hotel tax in 1998 and raised it from 2 percent to 3 percent in 2001.
Gillespie's bill, now called Act 18 of 2016, allows 57 other counties, including York, to increase their hotel tax rate. Numerous surrounding counties, such as Adams and Lancaster, already charged a higher rate, which, officials said, put York at a disadvantage when it came to funding tourism efforts.
York is the first county in the state to increase its hotel tax under the new law, Druck said.
"It's been a long effort, but it's been worth the effort," Hoke said.
By the numbers
- 3 percent and 5 percent are the old and new hotel tax rates, respectively
- $1.8 million was collected yearly under the old rate
- $3.2 million is expected to be collected under the new rate
- $90 million in local and state taxes stemmed from the county's tourism industry in 2014
- $907.5 million was spent by tourists in the county in 2013
- $923.1 million was spent by visitors in 2014
Source: York County commissioners and the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau