Time for a Harford room tax

November 23, 2011


I recently paid an Ocean City hotel a combined tax of 10.5 percent for an $89 room. A week later I paid a Connecticut hotel a state imposed tax of 15 percent on a $139 room. Twenty-two counties in Maryland charge a hotel tax. Harford does not. Yet here in Harford County our current delegation remains steadfastly opposed to introducing legislation that would bring a hotel room tax to Harford County.

Once at the NAACP forum I spoke in favor of such a tax, even going so far as to state that I thought that any elected official who refused to seek revenue for the county in a manner which did not put a tax or financial burden on its citizens was, in my eyes, not doing their job. I feel even more strongly about this than I did then. Last year I heard the same old rebuttals:

• "It's a tax." True, it is, but not on Harford County residents – families located to hotels by the Department of Social Services would be exempt, and really, how many Harford Countians decide to spend their vacation in a local hotel?

• "It will deter wedding parties and family gatherings." A 5 percent tax on a $70 room is $3.50. I'm not even sure you can buy a beer for that.

• "It will drive away tourists." I look at a lot of things before deciding on lodging while traveling, ratings, closeness to attractions, availability of services just to mention a few, but one thing I don't look at is the hotel tax rate – maybe because its charged everywhere (except here). I don't believe that a visitor to Ripken stadium or APG will choose not to stay in Harford because of the tax. Plus, where else will they go?

All the surrounding counties have a tax, so why at a time when budgets have been slashed, state money is drying up, county workers have been furloughed and teachers have gone without a raise for three years, does our delegation turn it's back on a potential revenue source like a hotel tax?

In addition to bringing in money for the county, a hotel tax could, if prepared correctly, save the county money as well. The potential revenue a 5 percent tax could generate could be almost 4 times the current budget for Harford County tourism. With this tax in place, the county could theoretically all but eliminate the department of tourism from its budget, and dedicate say, 40 percent of the hotel tax to the department of tourism. This would increase the money this department has to work with while reducing the county budget. Additionally, incorporated towns would then share the remaining 60 percent of revenue based on the money derived from lodging in their municipalities. Revenue collected from hotels outside the incorporated towns would go to the general fund. This would also provide incentive for the towns and the department of tourism to "go the extra mile" in promoting Harford County.

These are some of the toughest economic times. The political divide is as deep as some of us have ever seen. Yet now more than ever, our delegation needs to meet with the executive, and local officials and devise a plan to bring this long neglected source of revenue to Harford County.

John W. Jones

Bel Air

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