Politics & Government

Here’s why some Macon leaders want control over the tax visitors pay to stay in hotels

What’s going on with Macon-Bibb’s hotel-motel tax?

The Macon-Bibb County Commission may advocate to change the hotel-motel tax rate and how the revenue is used. Here are some quick facts about the tax.
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The Macon-Bibb County Commission may advocate to change the hotel-motel tax rate and how the revenue is used. Here are some quick facts about the tax.

A point of dissension in the latest Macon-Bibb County budget revolved around county leaders debating how much financial support some government agencies, cultural arts organizations and other nonprofits would receive.

There could, however, be some changes coming that would impact how tourist attractions receive a portion of their funding from the county.

The shift could mean less money from the general fund being used to support some of those “outside” agencies with some officials backing an increase in the hotel-motel tax and more say over how its revenue is used.

Mayor Robert Reichert is among those advocating for state legislation to change the tax charged for staying in hotel or motels from 7 percent to 8 percent. He’s also in support of expanding the organizations receiving some of the proceeds, said Chris Floore, public affairs director for Macon-Bibb County.

The hotel-motel tax is “supposed to help the organizations and events that are bringing people to our community, and in the past few years, the number of those — and all of their successes — have grown,” Floore wrote in an email. “There should be a mechanism by which other festivals, events, celebrations, and organizations can get support from Macon-Bibb.”

The county’s charter mandates that the hotel-motel tax go toward tourism-related uses.

Macon-Bibb’s hotel-motel tax has been on a steady climb in recent years. In fiscal year 2015 the tax brought in $3.5 million. Two years later that amount rose to a slightly under $4 million.

Currently the charter states that the largest share of that tax revenue (54 percent) goes to the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. The remaining revenue goes to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, Douglass Theatre, Cherry Blossom Festival, Macon Centreplex and the Lake Tobesofkee Recreation Area.

Commissioner Al Tillman said he’d also like for the hotel-motel tax to be updated in the county charter.

“No one has been able to answer the question... whether it’s the Douglass or Cherry Blossom, how they were chosen over other agencies,” he said. “It’s as if it’s been in place so long maybe it’s time to revamp it and give others an opportunity.”

One museum that doesn’t get any hotel-motel tax money is downtown Macon’s Tubman Museum. Its director says adjustments to the tax may be one solution to the debate over how to fund some of the nonprofits.

Tubman Museum Director Andy Ambrose said he’d like to see the Tubman get a share of the tax revenue.

The Tubman received $180,00 from this year’s general fund budget out of a total of $8.5 million going to 21 outside agencies.

“This is funding that’s not going to be coming out of local residents’ pockets,” Ambrose said. “These are taxpayers that are paying by coming to conferences, conventions; tourists that are staying in hotels. (The tax) is something that can build these organizations that really contribute to the local economy without it being based on property taxes or general sales tax.”

How Macon-Bibb County’s hotel-motel tax is divided up:

  • Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, 5.4 percent;
  • Douglass Theatre, 5.4 percent;
  • Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, 54 percent;
  • Cherry Blossom Festival, 7 percent;
  • Macon Centreplex, 13 percent;
  • Lake Tobesofkee Recreation Area, 13.1 percent;
  • Macon-Bibb administration costs, 2.1 percent.