Jackson County commissioners likely erred two weeks ago when they voted to double the county’s tax on overnight lodging: they failed to hold a public hearing first.
Commissioners were forced to rescind their vote, and will now hold a public hearing Nov. 7.
Commissioners had voted 4-1 to bump the room tax up from 3 to 6 percent, making it one of the highest in the region. The tax on overnight stays brought in $446,000 last year, which is pumped back in to tourism promotion through the Jackson County Travel and Tourism Authority.
County Attorney Jay Coward had failed to tell commissioners a public hearing was necessary.
Coward, who gets paid $150 an hour for his legal work by the county, explained that he thought Jackson County was exempt under a certain state general statute from the requirement for a hearing.
“Since then, I’ve decided that we probably ought to have that public hearing in case that was a defect in my reasoning,” Coward said.
The hearing is most likely an exercise in formality rather than a genuine intent to hearing public opinion, as a do-over of the vote is planned for the same night.
“After the public hearing we’ll take it up again,” said Commissioner Charles Elders.
Commissioners may get an earful, however.
Henry Hoche of Innisfree Inn By-The-Lake spoke against the doubling of Jackson County’s room tax at the county meeting this week. Taxing visitors might seem more attractive than upping property taxes, Hoche said, “but it is not advantageous” to owners of inns and motels. “It is difficult enough for us in the lodging business today.”
Hoche said a higher room tax would mean visitors stay in the area for shorter amounts of time.
Bob Dews of Laurelwood Mountain Inn in Cashiers also spoke against an increase, saying the economy has knocked down guest numbers, and inn and motel owners don’t need help from the county in knocking rates down even further.
Dews said people would choose to stay elsewhere if the room tax is higher in Jackson than neighboring areas.