County Council votes hotel tax increase 4 to 3, endorses HDIP

Frederick County Council voted for the hotel tax increase 4 to 3 after about an hour of sharp disagreements among six councillors split on party lines. President Bud Otis said nothing during the debate except Aye when his name came up in the roll call. The first reading of the bill (CB16-13) proposed by County Executive Jan Gardner asked for action on two items: the raise in the county hotel tax rate from 3 to 5 percent, the second approval of an Amended MOU between Gardner and the Tourism Council. That MOU amendement contained a controversial hotel development incentive program under which as much of 85 percent of the hotel tax collected by approved hotels could be rebated or set aside for 25 years to pay down that hotel’s debt — in effect institutiong a two tiered tax — 5% for regular unprivileged hotels, and as little as 0.75% for hotels deemed eligible for the huge tax rebate.

But by yesterday’s vote the new MOU of County Exec Gardner and the Tourism Council had disappeared from the Council Agenda.

The explanation given by the Council Chair MC Keegan-Ayer was that the Council had no power to influence that deal except by voting down the tax increase. The debate was a quite thorough coverage of the issues on both sides.

The three Republicans Billy Shreve, Tony Chmelik and Kirby Delauter expressed strong opposition to the hotel development incentive program as unfair to other hotels….

The three Republicans Billy Shreve, Tony Chmelik and Kirby Delauter expressed strong opposition to the hotel development incentive program as unfair to other hotels, on erected on shaky legal ground, and an unwarranted assistance to a poorly managed City hotel project. They noted that a majority on the Frederick County delegation to Annaplois oppose state funding for the downtown hotel, and oppose the new hotel development incentive program.

Jessica Fitzwater had a City spin on the project saying public financing was only for public infrastucture. Jerry Donald said he had initially had doubts about the proposal but came around when he saw it amended to provide support for large new hotels in Middletown, Brunswick, Burkettsville and other towns in his district. Keegan-Ayer said the City downtown conference center hotel project would be highly beneficial to the City and the County.

When the six had done talking the roll-call drew the silent President Bud Otis to give the evening to the Ayes 4 to 3. City Mayor Randy McClement, hotel project director Richard Griffin, Downtown Partnership executive Kara Norman, Tourism Council CEO John Fieseler and proposed developer Pete Plamondon were in the audience, and were obviously pleased with their victory, albeit a narrow win.

PSam 2016.08.30

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