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York County OK'd to raise hotel tax

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Language is included in a House Bill passed by the General Assembly that would allow the York County commissioners to increase the county hotel tax from 3 percent to 5 percent.

House Bill 1177, which is awaiting a concurrence vote in the Senate and then Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature, contains a provision that would let the county take in an estimated $700,000 in additional tax revenue, according to a news release from Rep. Ron Miller, R-York County, who sponsored the legislation.

That would increase the annual collection to $2.2 million to be used in part by the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau. By law, the money can only be used for tourism efforts.

Visitors spent more than $885 million in the county in 2012, according to "The Economic Impact of Travel and Tourism in Pennsylvania, Dutch Country Roads Region," a study put together by analysts Tourism Economics.

State approval is required before the commissioners can hike the tax.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Commissioner Doug Hoke, who also sits on the CVB board. “As soon as we get official word that everything has been established, I’ll be making a motion at a commissioners’ meeting to enact the tax in the very near future.”

Though the exact details have to be worked out, the CVB would continue to receive the bulk of the money. However, some of the money would go to the York County Agricultural Society, which runs the York Fairgrounds, as well as to a grant program aimed at promoting tourism or tourism products, Hoke said.

A to-be-appointed board of residents will oversee the grant program. Previously, the CVB received such grant requests, Hoke said.

York County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Anne Druck said the bureau’s budget of about $2 million would actually only increase by about $50,000 as a result of the tax increase.

“We’re not going to double our staff or triple our advertising,” Druck said. “It’s not a windfall for one organization. It’s a great thing for York County. The community is going to see an influx of tourism funds.”

The CVB proposed the tax increase in October 2008, Druck said. The commissioners requested state lawmakers enact the tax-hike approval in May 2009, Hoke said.

“The York County House delegation got this process started and Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York County, worked hard to get this increase amended into the bill when it originally passed through the Senate,” Miller said in the release.

Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York County, said the goal had been to get it in place before the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, but he said it is still supported broadly by the community, from hoteliers to civic leaders.

“Last night I said, jokingly, that this is one of the most overwhelmingly supported and sought-after tax increases in York County,” Schreiber said.

While there is local support, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association is not in favor of increase because of how it was done, said association government affairs director Melissa Bova. The association has been working with the Pennsylvania Association of Travel and Tourism to get comprehensive reform of the hotel tax.

“We don’t support this piecemeal approach,” Bova said. “If we’re going to increase the tax, we should do it for everyone and make sure that all counties are benefiting.”

Once the Senate signs off on the measure, likely next week, Corbett has 10 days to either veto the bill or sign it. If he does nothing, it automatically becomes law.

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