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Chamber ready to check out hotel-motel tax

POSTED: June 20, 2013 6:53 p.m.

The Effingham County Chamber of Commerce is making plans to put the hotel-motel excise tax receipts coming its way to use to spur tourism efforts.

County commissioners agreed to partner with the Chamber to use incoming hotel-motel tax revenues to promote tourism. Commissioners also had the second reading of an ordinance of a hotel-motel tax, approving that ordinance.

Under the terms of the new law, the county will impose a 5 percent excise tax on lodging charges, aside from when exemptions apply, in the unincorporated areas of the county. The tax will go into effect July 1.

"We’re just very, very pleased to have this accomplished and start going forward," said Chamber executive director Rick Lott. "It was a very historic night for the Chamber. It’s exciting. I think it can be a gamechanger for us, as far as building a tourism base."

Lott said the Chamber has been talking about a possible hotel-motel tax for at least 10 years. Under the tax’s provisions, the Chamber will receive 80 percent of the proceeds and 50 percent of that total must be directed toward tourism promotion.

State law mandates that organizations receiving proceeds from a hotel-motel tax must have a certain non-profit status, and the Chamber fits that bill, and use the money to encourage tourism.

"The Chamber is the only organization that can do this," said county commission Chairman Wendall Kessler.

Said temporary county administrator Toss Allen: "It is the only 501c6, the only private, non-profit group capable of receiving these funds."

The county will keep 20 percent of the tax’s proceeds — the tax is charged only to those who stay in hotels and motels in the unincorporated portions of the county — for administrative purposes.

While half of the tax revenues directed to the Chamber will go to promote tourism, the other half will go toward cultural or recreational events for county residents and visitors.

The Chamber also will provide to the county a financial statement of its revenues and expenditures in relation to the hotel-motel tax.

Lott believes the hotel-motel tax revenue can help Effingham push itself as a stop for tourists, especially if film studio Medient’s plans for its mammoth undertaking at I-16 and Old River Road come to fruition. The studio wants to erect hotels and restaurants and build shopping areas in the public access portions of its development.

"With the possibilities we’re looking at in the next few years, tourism is going to become increasingly important in the economic life of Effingham County," he said. "Medient’s plans call for hotels, restaurants and shopping, and that’s tourism. That’s going to bring people in. The economic impact could be enormous."

Under a proposed budget, the Chamber expects to receive $15,000 in tax revenues. The Chamber will spend $1,350 on an Effingham tourism brochure, and $1,650 will go toward a kiosk at the state welcome center on Interstate 95.

The Chamber also plans to spend $5,000 on a gateway welcome sign, with funds coming from the Chamber’s own money and also from a Rincon hotel-motel tax, if that city council opts to enact one. The Chamber also is considering placing an ad in Visit Savannah’s media guide, with a cost of $7,000.

A presence at the I-95 welcome center and in the Savannah visitors guide could help spur interest from travelers and tourists headed to Savannah.

"When people call, this is what they’ll be sent," Lott said of the visitors guide. "We’ll be promoting our two museums and tell enough about the county in a general way to interest people in coming out."

The Chamber also has been working with Rincon on a potential hotel-motel tax, and the city passed one back in 1996. But it appears never to have been enacted.

The Chamber and the city are discussing how a Rincon hotel-motel tax would be split.

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