High hotel taxes in TN county not likely to rise, but pols looking elsewhere

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Wilson County commissioners, apparently lacking support to raise hotel taxes to pay for a new expo center, may switch tactics and ask officials in three cities to pitch in, county Mayor Randall Hutto said.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported Tuesday, commissioners cannot implement the tax without legislative approval, which state Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, doesn’t believe they’ll get.

If the proposed 3 percent tax hike went into effect, travelers who use a hotel in Mt. Juliet would pay a 22.5 percent tax on their rooms, one of the highest rates in the nation.

Pody, however, said he believes legislators would instead support a 1 percent increase in the hotel-motel tax.

Despite the commission’s prior support, Hutto told Tennessee Watchdog on Tuesday a 3 percent tax, if implemented, would cause problems.

“We thought in the beginning that a 3 percent tax would be awfully tough on our hotel folks here because of the rates already imposed on them,” Hutto said.

“We thought that would have been excessive for the hotel folks to handle, so we looked at ways since the beginning of that that we maybe need to try to get it down to 1 percent and to see if the cities can help us out with another 1 percent and see if the county can come up with another 1 percent, thus being equal to the 3 percent that is needed.”

The county needs to generate $450,000 in tax revenue per year for the building, Hutto said.

County officials have already sent letters to officials in the county’s three cities — Lebanon, Mt. Juliet, and Watertown — asking if they are open to the idea, Hutto said.

“We don’t know yet what the cities will say. A feasibility study shows we are going to gain more sales tax back than what they were giving up in that 1 percent. Plus they could get the use of the expo building and maybe some free advertising,” Hutto said.

Randall Hutto

Officials in Lebanon and Watertown didn’t immediately respond to Tennessee Watchdog’s requests for comment.

But in an emailed statement, Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty said the following about Hutto’s alternate idea:

“The city of Mt. Juliet unanimously passed a resolution recently stating our opposition to the funding mechanism for the proposed expo center. It seems unfair to me to ask the hotel owners and users in Mt. Juliet to pay for an expo center located east of Lebanon.”

Commissioners want the extra money to build what they call the Wilson County Ag Expo Center at the county fairgrounds, described as a venue for trade shows and conventions.

Sanket Patel, who owns the Quality Inn in Lebanon, told Tennessee Watchdog in December that commissioners simply lack good sense for business, as the higher tax would drive away customers.

In response, Hutto seemed to defend the 3 percent tax at the time, saying visitors would have business at the expo center that lasts more than a day, requiring them to use area hotels — and pay for the tax revenue needed to fund the center, he said.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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