Greenbrier Lodging Tax Report Card by Joan C. Browning Mountain Messenger, Saturday, June 30, 2007 In 2002 Greenbrier County Commissioners levied an occupancy tax on overnight guests in hotels, motels, inns, and bed and breakfast businesses. Half of the lodging tax goes to the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The other half goes to the Greenbrier County Commission for promoting tourism, arts and recreation. Five years later, what do we have to show for taxing overnight visitors? The Greenbrier County Convention & Visitors Bureau is incorporated as a nonprofit organization. It is governed by a Board of Directors composed of thirteen tourism and business professionals. The Board engaged a highly skilled and enthusiastic professional staff. Volunteer “working committees” help the Board and staff. The Greenbrier County CVB’s report card shows excellence as shown by the long and growing list of state, regional, and national awards. Honors are pouring in for all areas of the CVB’s operation, such as its new website and the Greenbrier County Visitors Guide. Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau makes us look good. More than honors and pride, though, the CVB’s success is measured by the economic impact tourism brings to Greenbrier County. In 2004, tourists spent $231,000,000 here. From tourism, we collected $1,638,000 in local taxes and another $15,385,000 in West Virginia state taxes. Tourism accounted for 2,540 Greenbrier County jobs. Each year shows increases in all economic measures. Clearly, the CVB is meeting its mission of using its half of the occupancy tax to encourage tourism. By every measure, the Greenbrier Convention and Visitors Bureau earns an A+. How about the other half of the lodging tax? For our use of lodging taxes to increase recreation, D- is a generous grade. The County Commission has meted out about a million dollars for arts and recreation. Some funds have gone for projects with only vaguely arts and recreational purposes. I applaud the Commission’s expressed desire use county funds wisely. The County Commission began the recreation piece reasonably enough. They sought community advice by appointing the Greenbrier County Recreation Committee. In March 2002, the County Commission hired the consulting firm Brailsford & Dunlavey to conduct a “Recreation Needs Assessment and Feasibility Analysis.” In August 2002, B&D reported that the county’s occupancy tax made it financially feasibile to develop and operate the two facility option -- a 28,000 square foot facility and 9,000 square foot satellite facility with outdoor pool. This option would leave funds for other recreation projects. These B&D recommendations are compatible with the CVB’s Randall Travel Marketing study of ways to increase tourism. That study also said “An excellent use of the 50 % of the occupany tax funds that are retained by … Greenbrier County would be to hire a sports tourism consultant who can effectively evaluate the existing sports facilities in the county… and determine which sports may be under-served and a good potential for the area.” The Recreation Committee has members who are willing and able to prepare proposals for improved soccer and softball facilities for use by local teams and as tournament and tourist destinations. I have a special interest in improving wholesome opportunities for girls. A quarter century ago, I agreed to be president of the Ronceverte-Fairlea Little League Baseball only if all the children could play. We expanded from about 70 children to around 300. And we started the first organized youth softball in the county. Our softball Bad News Bears had to travel to Summersville and Shady Springs to play other teams. Now, I rejoice to hear that Greenbrier County girls are playing on thirty-three softball teams. Don’t they deserve adequate playing fields? Don’t our growing soccer programs? The County Commission rejected its own consultants’ recommendations. Instead, the Commission built an outdoor swimming pool in Rainelle, and chose what some call the “Taj Mahal” plan. The Commissioners hired an architect and paid B&D to update the business plan. Under the leadership of its Chair, Martha Gillespie Sams, the Greenbrier County Recreation Committee members have worked through changing Committee and Commission membership and changing assignments. Recently, the County Commission asked the Recreation Committee to compare the financial basis of three options for a recreation facility: the B&D analysis, the Greenbrier Community College proposal, and the Greenbrier Valley Young Mens Christian Association proposal. Jeff Lewis and I worked many hours seeking and organizing comparative data. Wednesday, after five years and not unanimously, the Greenbrier County Commission took the first tentative step toward maybe someday acquiring land upon which to build a recreational facility in eastern Greenbrier County. Citizens care. Interested people pack every Greenbrier County Commission meeting when recreation is on the agenda. We are divided on details but I believe we have broad areas of agreement. We agree that we want lodging taxes to be used to increase, not reduce or replace, choices for wellness and fitness and recreation for all age groups in all parts of Greenbrier County. We want all that we have now and more, especially the “more” that is the usual duty of local government because it will never be self supporting – playing fields and swimming pools. The five-year lodging tax report card shows two ways of using the funds and two different results. Is it time to adopt the successful CVB model to implement the county- wide recreation program? Is it time to organize a Greenbrier County Arts & Recreation Bureau to manage the county’s half of the occupancy tax? May we try to meet the needs of ALL of Greenbrier County. And may the County’s half of the lodging tax soon match the Convention and Visitors Bureau A+ report.
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