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Cumberland County commissioners advertise changes to hotel tax ordinance

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The Cumberland County commissioners Monday afternoon agreed to advertise changes to a county ordinance that would clarify the legal uses of the county’s hotel tax.

The tax, which generates $1.6 million annually and is distributed to the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation, was a source of controversy among the board of commissioners in 2013.

A request by the Army Heritage Center Foundation for 20 percent of the revenues last summer failed after Commissioner Gary Eichelberger opposed the move and Commissioner Chairwoman Barbara Cross recused herself from any vote due to a possible conflict of interest.

At about the same time, commissioners authorized a performance audit of CAEDC. Eichelberger called the move retaliatory, but Commissioner Jim Hertzler defended it as necessary to ensure that hotel tax revenues were being properly expended given CAEDC’s “unique” role as both a tourism promotion and economic development agency.

Under state law, hotel tax revenues may only be used to promote tourism. The proposed changes to the ordinance — which mirror the language of state law — clarifies what that means, Eichelberger said. Specifically, it states that funds can be used to market Cumberland County for “business travel,” something Eichelberger said had been previously questioned.

Combined with CAEDC’s positive result on the audit, the revised ordinance will make clear that CAEDC is properly using the hotel tax funds, he said.

“We wanted to be sure we were on the up-and-up with the law, and we are,” he said. “Legally speaking, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with our arrangement.”

Hertzler also said the revised ordinance will better define the acceptable uses of hotel tax funds.

“The proposed change in our county’s ordinance governing the use of hotel tax dollars, which I fully support, specifically tracks state law by delineating how hotel tax revenues may be used in accordance with state law. The uses are clearly defined and they are principally to market and promote the county as a tourist and business travel destination,” he said. “I am delighted that the county’s controller’s compliance audit gave CAEDC a clean bill of health with respect to its usage of hotel tax revenues. The clarification provided in the county’s proposed new ordinance and, perhaps, with our consideration of subsequent changes to the operating agreement with CAEDC, should help to clearly define and maintain the proper use of hotel tax revenues.”

The proposed ordinance also increases the amount of time allowed for the county to distribute received hotel tax revenues to its Tourist Promotion Agency — currently CAEDC — from 30 days to 60 days.

Email Daniel Walmer at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or follow him on Twitter @SentinelWalmer.

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