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Council walks back hotel tax
April 27, 2012 Jerry Purvis   

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Council walks back hotel tax
By Jerry Purvis
Two week after members voted to implement a 4.5 percent hotel occupation tax, the Gering City Council decided to suspend its July 1 implementation to allow for additional research.

Steve Schliening, operator of Monument Inn and Suites in Gering, asked to speak to the passage of the tax, which he said “came about with very little discussion and information to the general public and particularly to the business drivers of this revenue.”

Schliening, who doesn’t live in the area full time, said he was unaware of many of the previous discussions about the tax. He added the first time he heard about its passage was when the media called and asked why he was opposing the occupation tax.

Schliening said hotel occupants already pay Nebraska and local sales taxes, Nebraska lodging tax and Scotts Bluff County lodging tax, bringing the total to 12 percent. He said adding another tax would be a burden on his business customers, who often stay several days several times during the year.

His hotel manager agreed, saying people go online to book lodging and are aware of every tax that’s included in the price. Those consumers refuse to pay the “rack rate,” or advertised price, but will negotiate for lower prices.

“If this were be repealed, how would you suggest we fund and maintain our parks and tourism attractions without relying on property tax?” asked Gering Mayor Ed Mayo.

Schliening’s hotel caters primarily to business customers, who make little use of the entertainment and recreational facilities the tax was earmarked to support. He asked if the city is having a problem funding its recreation facilities at the current time.

Schliening was also concerned the tax, if not passed by Scottsbluff, would put Gering motels and hotels at a disadvantage. And because much of his business is done on a yearly contract basis, those rates would have to be renegotiated to account for an additional 4.5 percent local lodging tax.

Mayo said both Terrytown and Scottsbluff have received copies of Gering’s proposed ordinance and would consider a similar measure in the future. However, council member Joyce Hillman-Kortum said she knew for a fact the Scottsbluff council was not considering even putting the measure on their agenda in the immediate future.

“I checked with our city attorney,” said council member Larry Gibbs. “He told us it was possible for us to pass a motion suspending implementation or the ordinance pending further review. That might save some public interest costs due to a repeal of the tax.”

Disagreeing with Gibbs, Hillman-Kortum said the council should junk the ordinance entirely and start over. “Motel owners think a four-and-a-half percent jump is just too much,” she said. “We should also make it more clear whether we intend to ‘go it alone’ if Scottsbluff doesn’t also adopt the tax.”

Gibbs made a motion to suspend the implementation of the tax pending further discussion. The motion passed on a 5-3 vote. Council members Hillman-Kortum and Don Christensen wanted to repeal the ordinance in its entirety.

Council member Rebecca Shields also voted no on the Gibbs motion, but for different reasons. She explained later the occupation tax should remain in place to help fund the city’s recreation facilities, including the potential development of a new sports complex.

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