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Council approves occupation tax
April 13, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

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Members of the Gering City Council unanimously approved a 4.5 percent occupation tax on hotel and motel lodging in the city. The tax would generate approximately $49,000 annually.

Mayor Ed Mayo said the funds would be earmarked for entertainment, recreational and cultural venues. Some of the items listed in the ordinance included participatory sports facilities, pathways, community centers and cultural and heritage recreational sites and facilities.

A proposal to build a sports complex just north of Five Rocks Amphitheater is one of the projects that would benefit from the occupation tax.

Council member Joyce Hillman-Kortum said when the land was purchased years ago, a feasibility study was done to see if a sports complex would work for the city. A portion of city sales tax has been set aside since that time for a potential sports complex and currently the fund has grown to around $400,000.

Hillman-Kortum asked how much additional funding would be needed to build a sports complex at the site. Mayor Mayo said the project would have to be done in phases. He added the project could get a big boost from a modified version of legislation that allows cities to keep 70 percent of sales tax revenues currently collected by the state.

Council member Rebecca Shields said the schools and the college have expressed an interest in using the facilities and could help support the cost.

“I don’t want this project to get so big we lose sight of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Hillman-Kortum said. “That’s my biggest concern. I want this to be on a sound financial footing.”

Council member Larry Gibbs emphasized the occupation tax would be used for a number of facilities, not just the proposed sports complex. “The sports complex is a separate issue,” he said. “This tax might be a funding source for it, but it isn’t necessarily where all the funding would go. We’re also providing additional funding for facilities we already have.”

Another concern expressed by Hillman-Kortum is that Gering might put itself at a competitive disadvantage with other communities by passing the occupation tax. But according to Mayo, both Terrytown and Scottsbluff are considering the occupation tax, but would like to see how Gering’s ordinance is worded.

Council member Manuel Escamilla said travelers, including himself, don’t look closely at every tax line item that makes up the cost of lodging. Consequently, he sees no negative impact resulting from passing the occupation tax.

The 4.5 percent occupation tax goes into effect June 1.
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