By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
West Virginia Senate Bill 415, written and proposed to allow County Commissions to impose amusement tax, was on the agenda for discussion at the most recent meeting of the Tucker County Commissioners. Present to partake in the discussion was Jessica Waldo, Executive Director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, along with Donna Patrick. This tax would permit a one to two percent amusement tax to be added on amusement-related purchases, such as a ski lift ticket.
Commission President Mike Rosenau stated he felt this tax would be a good option for the county and ensure the safety of our visitors. Commissioner Lowell Moore agreed as he has seen this bill presented more than once and has failed to make it through both the House and the Senate to be passed. His concern is why the legislature feels the municipalities are capable of implementing this tax, which a lot do, but the Commissioners would not be. He explained that if this would be put in place, it could be possible that the EMS Ordinance could be eliminated and the amusement tax could be used to fund the first responders through visitors to the area instead of the residents. “It’s a fair tax for tourists,” he added. Rosenau added that he is glad for the one million-plus visitors that come to the area each year, but it is the locals that are “fitting the bill” for the guests.
Waldo spoke to the Commissioners beginning with an explanation of how the CVB is funding. She said the six percent hotel/motel tax is divided in half, they receive three percent, and the county the other three. She stated that there used to be a cap on the amount the EMS and Fire Departments could receive from the county’s portion, however, Moore was unsure and said he would have to look into that further. Waldo met with the CVB Board who expressed concerns on what the definition of amusement and entertainment would be and how that money would be used. She stated they are firm supporters of the EMS and First Responders, but not of the bill because of too many unknowns and variables. Waldo added there must be other ways to fund the EMS versus taxing the tourists again, who already pay a 12% rental tax.
Rosenau asked if the CVB had any standards or regulations as to how their portion of the hotel/motel taxes was spent since the CVB Board seemed to want the same for the Commissioners if the bill were to pass. Waldo explained that to be an accredited CVB, they must follow certain guidelines, which they are and do. “And what makes you think the Commission would be less responsible (than the municipalities)?” asked Rosenau.
Moore wished to clarify that in the beginning, the EMS received nothing from the hotel/motel tax because they did not have a hospital. Waldo asked if any data or statistics were proving that tourism affects the EMS or Fire Department services. Rosenau answered saying with over one million guests annually, it is highly likely to lead to more accidents both automotive-related or otherwise. He then suggested that of a $700,000 hotel/motel tax, the CVB receives $350,000 of that, and maybe they should consider donating to the EMS.
Patrick took the opportunity to speak saying that tourism is holding up the county as it is and the guests are the ones coming here to buy the overpriced gas and groceries on top of the 12% rental tax. She added they supply multiple jobs for the locals. “Why do we keep sticking it to the tourists?” she asked. Patrick suggested other options need to be sought or the language in the bill needs to be more specific.
Rosenau referred to an individual he knows that recently booked a rental in Myrtle Beach. Upon reviewing the receipt, a $100 emergency service fee was applied to the overall cost, which would serve much like the Commission’s intentions for the amusement and entertainment tax. He asked the individual if that deterred him from booking the rental or if that caused any issues. According to Rosenau, that individual stated it did not and he was glad to know he and his family would be safe by funding those types of services while on their trip.
Waldo stated that the CVB prides itself on being accredited and that they are continuing to bring visitors into the area to support the community. She added she felt the CVB was being singled out. Moore responded that he didn’t feel it was fair that the locals had to be mostly responsible for funding the EMS services when it is so largely utilized by incoming guests.
Patrick then stated she felt the $50 EMS Ordinance Fee was too low and referenced other counties and how they fund their services. She requested the Commission to continue their research outside of the counties and refer to other states as well for better funding ideas than the additional tax.
Commissioner Fred Davis, who also serves as a Volunteer Fire Fighter, has spoken with other individuals and referred to numerous calls received for assistance that are almost always related to tourism, such as lost or injured hikers in the Douglas Falls area. Patrick said hikers will not be paying for anything to hike in that area, therefore that wouldn’t help the tax purposes. Davis responded, “No matter what they use as a visitor, there will be somewhere to add this tax, they’re going to come here no matter what.” Davis then suggested the CVB support and showcase the Parsons area and that side of the county more whereas most of the focus has been on the Davis and Thomas areas.
As the discussion continued about the bill, Moore put into perspective what it costs to run the EMS. He stated that to have two, 24-hour crews in the county, with just two EMTs, costs $1.5 million per year to operate. This doesn’t include the additional paramedics that have been working to provide additional care to those in need. He also added that if they went with the maximum of two percent, that would only be $2 per $100 spent.
The Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge, represented by Ron Hollis, gave their annual update and told Commissioners that even though Governor Jim Justice is permitting full capacity re-opening, they are going, to begin with, a 50% capacity for safety.
Sheila DeVilder, the County Administrator, has continued working on filing grants and seeking out additional funding resources for the county. Mike Simmons, Assistant 911 Director, offered the report on behalf of 911, stating that new cables and equipment have been installed which EMS has stated the clarity seems to have improved. Rosenau suggested working with OEM Director Kevin White to perform a test of the system.
White followed announcing that nearly 70% of Tucker County residents have been vaccinated at the time of the meeting. The upcoming clinic will still be run at full scale, however, he foresees things to slow down as so many people are only waiting for their second vaccination. A video was taken of the Tucker County Vaccination Clinic and sent to the other 54 counties within the state to use as an example to model their system from. He has also been working with 911 to file a grant for security projects for cameras and fencing installation. As of May 1, fairs and festivals as permitted per Gov. Justice, which means the Fireman’s Homecoming Parade will be held this year. White spoke with Gamble Amusement and they have confirmed extra precautions would be in place to ensure safety.
Bailey Falls, Director of the Tucker County Animal Shelter, gave shelter statistics for March 1 through the 24. The shelter took in 36 animals, had eight adoptions, four owner reclaims, and 12 transfers to rescue partners. There were 21 trap, neuter, vaccinate, and return animals cared for, which fully vaccinates the colony on Price Street. Additional colonies throughout the county are being addressed as well, with six additional traps ordered.
Repairs are being made to the animal control vehicle and a rabies clinic is in the plans. No word has been received from the WVDA grant applied for as of the meeting. The Stanton Foundation COVID Relief Grant for canine medication is being compiled for consideration.
The wrecker service agreement must be reviewed and renewed every three years, which Davis made a motion to approve with Moore and Rosenau in favor. A lease agreement with the Community Corrections office building was approved as presented as well as the budget proposal. Prosecuting Attorney Savannah Hull-Wilkins approved the erroneous assessments which the Commissioners signed off on. Payments were then voted on to approve as presented.
The next Tucker County Commission Meeting will be Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at 9 a.m. at the Tucker County Courthouse.