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County closer to starting hotel-motel tax for tourism
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Effingham County could have a boost to tourism efforts, after commissioners’ action Tuesday night.

Commissioners approved the first reading of an ordinance that would levy a 5 percent tax on hotel and motel guests in the unincorporated portions of the county. Under the ordinance, 40 percent of the tax’s receipts would go toward promoting tourism.

The county would contract with a non-profit group for tourism promotion, and the remaining 60 percent of the tax’s proceeds would go toward tourism events, temporary county administrator Toss Allen explained.

“We’re not suggesting the county would retain 60 percent of the money,” he said. “And 40 percent would go to the private, non-profit group we contract with.”

The hotel-motel tax has been a longstanding goal of the Effingham Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a tax that will only be borne by visitors to stay in our hotels,” said Chamber director Rick Lott. “It is not a tax on the general citizenry.”

Non-profit groups that enter into a contract with the county have to have a specific tax-exempt status. Lott and commission Chairman Wendall Kessler said it was their understanding that the Chamber was the only group in the county eligible at this point to receive the tax’s receipts and put them to use.

The hotel-motel tax will not apply to those who are staying at a hotel or motel because their home has been damaged by a fire or another means. It also will not apply to state and local government employees traveling on official business.

It also will not apply to the use of meeting rooms at local hotels and motels.

Commissioners will vote on a second reading of the proposed ordinance, putting it into law with their approval, at their June 18 meeting. The Chamber also has provided the county with a proposed budget for the tax’s proceeds, and the county commissioners may vote to enter into a contract with the Chamber at that meeting.

“We’re trying to stay on track to get it approved by July 1,” Allen said.

A proposed contract between the Chamber and the county would go into effect July 1, if commissioners agree. The Chamber projects the tax would provide $13,350 a year toward tourism promotion.