By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — Columbia officials know they want to raise taxes on hotels, but they don’t appear to know why, exactly.
A member of the Columbia City Council, one of six to vote unanimously to possibly raise hotel taxes, said he and other city officials still have no concrete plans for that money.
In an interview Thursday with Tennessee Watchdog, city councilman Mark King said he could offer no direct answers.
“That’s really all we’ve got so far to say at this point in terms of how this money is spent — just on stuff related to tourism,” King said.
HOTEL TAXES: Officials in Columbia know they want to raise taxes on hotels — but they don’t know what, specifically, they want to do with the money.
City officials, however, may not implement the tax, which is still nothing more than a proposal at this point, at least not if and until state legislators grant approval.
“It will probably be at least March before we hear anything from the Legislature,” King said, noting that legislators can do nothing unless a state representative and a state senator sponsor the idea.
As Tennessee Watchdog previously reported, the council voted to levy the hotel or motel occupancy tax by 5 percent.
Maury County, where Columbia is located, already charges a 5 percent hotel tax; the state sales tax on hotels is 9 percent.
If the additional tax went through, hotel guests would pay a nearly 20 percent tax on their rooms.
King said his district has more hotels than any other in the city, and he has no information indicating the tax will have a negative economic impact.
Columbia hotel owner Doug Boehms, owner of the Richland Inn, told Tennessee Watchdog in December, however, that the higher tax will only hurt his business.
Boehms said filling rooms at his hotel, which is six miles away from the nearest interstate, is so difficult that he recently had to tear down one of his buildings, which had 36 rooms.
In prior years, Boehms’ hotel served the area’s industrial plants, but those plants have long since closed, he said.
“It’s an easy tax. There isn’t a widespread body of resistance, because the people who pay this tax pay it one time. The motel industry pays it every night. The pressure isn’t on from the public to resist it,” Boehms said.
“What the public will do is simply make other plans, just like any other expense. There won’t be any great opposition, other than the motel owners, as I see it.”
Tennessee Watchdog left messages with Columbia’s mayor, Dean Dickey, and City Manager Tony Massey, but neither man responded before Thursday’s publication time.
While King had no specific answers on what the extra taxpayer revenue would fund, the Dec. 8 Columbia Daily Herald listed suggestions from his peers. One council member, the article said, wants to use the money to buy a church to expand the campus that belongs to former President James K. Polk’s childhood home.
Another council member wants to build a monument dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., while another member wants to expand Columbia’s downtown area, according to the paper.
In addition to the Polk Home, Columbia’s other main attractions include a phosphate museum, a small Civil War battlefield and various antebellum homes.
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