Tourism board supports tax hike

GREENFIELD — The Hancock County Tourism Commission passed a resolution Tuesday to use additional revenue from a proposed tax increase in order to build a new fairgrounds.

The tax increase being considered would raise the local innkeeper’s tax on hotel guests from 4 percent to 5 percent, adding about $75,000 to the commission’s current $300,000 in revenue.

The additional money would be used to more than double the size of the fairgrounds by moving the property to vacant farmland owned by the county just east of Greenfield.

Moving the project forward is now in the hands of the Hancock County Council, which can approve the tax increase. The matter was discussed briefly at the council’s Wednesday morning meeting, but no action was taken.

Supporters of the tax increase believe the proposed new fairgrounds, which would include an exposition center, will attract tourists.

Opponents of the tax increase, however, said they believe the project falls into a gray area between tourism and economic development.

John Dodrill, who has owned and operated the Super 8 Motel in Greenfield for more than 26 years, said he is not against the idea of constructing a new fairgrounds in Hancock County.

He said he just wishes the funding for it didn’t have to fall on area hotel owners, he said

His business has had its ups and downs, and enacting a 4 percent innkeeper’s tax in the community in 2001 didn’t make it any easier, he said.

If the Hancock County Council decides to increase the innkeeper’s tax to 5 percent to help fund the fairgrounds project, it will get even tougher to pay the bills, he said to the tourism commission Tuesday night.

If local officials decide to classify the project as tourism, Dodrill said he won’t complain. He hopes, however, that the commission, which receives more than $300,000 annually from the tax as it currently stands, will revisit its current budget before seeking an increase, he said.

“I don’t dispute the innkeeper’s tax; I just ask that you be careful with our money and our customers’ money,” Dodrill said, explaining that he doesn’t believe money currently generated by the innkeeper’s tax is spent efficiently. “But I have no objections to a new fairgrounds. (Agriculture tourism) events fill hotels, and this idea has the best potential for tourism increase that I’ve heard in a long time.”

Commission member Rosalie Richardson stressed that only the county council can approve the tax increase. The resolution approved by the commission was drafted on the council’s request to ensure that the additional funds would be used only for the fairgrounds project.

That resolution passed 6-1, with commission member Earl Smith voting against the measure.

Smith said he agreed with the statements Dodrill made. He said he believes the commission can do a better job when selecting events and programs that deserve funding.

“Some of the monies we give out don’t put heads in (hotel) beds like they are supposed to; they are more community-based programs,” he said.

If the tax is increased, Dodrill is skeptical that the council will remove it once funding for building a new fairgrounds is fully generated.

“No matter what your best intentions, you’ll never go back to the council to ask that the tax be lowered again,” Dodrill said to the commission. “Once you get more funding, you’ll just keep handing it out.”

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.