Public comments on hotel tax cut

FRONT ROYAL – Town leaders heard support and opposition Monday for a proposal to cut the tax rate people pay to stay in hotels.

Town Council held a public hearing to receive comments on the proposal to reduce the lodging tax rate from 6 percent to 2 percent of the total amount paid for a motel room rental. Reducing the rate would bring the town in line with what Warren County charges hotel users.

The town could expect to see its revenue from lodging taxes drop by at least $200,000 if it lowered the levy.

Local businessman Mike McCool spoke against the proposal. McCool said the lodging tax rate never comes up when he stays in hotels. McCool said he didn’t think the difference between 6 percent and 2 percent makes much of a difference to people staying in hotels. McCool warned that the town would need to find a way to make up the revenue lost if it lowers the tax rate.

Jason Aikens, with the Hampton Inn in town, said he saw the importance of creating a level playing field by lowering the rate. Aikens acknowledged that lowering the rate would reduce revenue. Brent Jackson, with Holiday Inn, echoed Aikens’ concerns about leveling the playing field. However, Jackson said he would rather see Warren County increase its tax rate to the maximum allowed of 4 percent rather than the town lowering the levy. Jackson said it appears the town could set a precedent as no others have lowered a lodging tax rate.

Matthew Tederick also said he doesn’t usually ask about lodging tax rates when he stays at hotels. Tederick said the town could cut spending to make up the revenue shortfall. Tederick said he supports all tax reductions but suggested that council consider cutting taxes for all businesses rather than just a small segment.

Councilman Bret Hrbek sought the rate reduction to bring the town’s levy in line with what Warren County charges hotel patrons. Council voted Sept. 28 to authorize town staff to advertise the hearing. However, the amended motion as approved sets up the hearing for discussion purposes only.

Mayor Timothy Darr closed the public hearing and noted that no action would be taken. Council did not discuss the matter further as there was no motion made for consideration.

Also at the meeting, council voted 4-2 on second reading changes to the town code that creates regulations for urban agriculture. The section allows the keeping of livestock on certain residential properties with an approved zoning permit as well as a management plant endorsed by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Office or other qualified expert, nonprofit group or government entity. Residents of single-family, duplex and two-family homes can obtain a permit to keep up to six hens, honeybee hives and rabbits on the property. Other residential uses such as townhouses and apartments would not be allowed to keep animals except if approved by Town Council with a special-use permit or development proffer.

Councilman Eugene Tewalt again voted against the measure, noting that such a move would serve as a detriment to the majority of the town residents and would negatively affect property values. Tewalt said the ordinance would allow chickens that then will create more waste the town must then treat as it abides by environmental regulations.

Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe voted with Tewalt, reversing his previous stand on the idea.

Councilman John Connolly voted in favor of the idea and noted that the town can revisit the regulations in a year. Councilman Daryl Funk said the ordinance legalizes a situation that already exists and allow the town to better regulate the activity. Councilwoman Bébhinn Egger said the ordinance allows people to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

Council voted 5-1 in favor of the proposed changes, on first reading, at its Nov. 9 meeting. Council heard comments for and against urban agriculture at the public hearing. The ordinance amendment as approved includes an exemption for livestock or fowl on any farm of one acre or more in town limits.

Business owner Mike McCool spoke during the public comment period against the proposed regulations. Chickens require a certain amount of care and can pose health problems to humans, McCool said. Jessica Jansen also spoke and urged council to adopt the new rules, arguing that the limit of six chickens would not pose any major environmental problems.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com