Innkeepers tax increase passes to second reading

PLYMOUTH — Marshall County will move forward on the possibility of raising the innkeepers tax for the county.
Mike Woolfington, executive director of the Marshall County Convention and Visitors Bureau, came before the Marshall County Council to seek an increase in the tax from its current level of 3 percent to 5 percent. The tax has been at 3 percent for nearly 20 years and the money raised from the tax is the money that Woolfington uses to fund his department that seeks to bring tourists, events and the subsequent dollars spent, to the area.
Woolfington pointed out that Marshall County was one of the just a handful counties in the state of Indiana that has held the tax at 3 percent. Adjacent counties have raised their tax to the 5 percent level and St. Joseph County is at 6 percent.
Along with the economy, Woolfington pointed to the loss to the area of major hotel chains — “Flagship” hotels — such as Holiday Inn and Motel 6, as blows to the tourist trade in the county. He said that there has been no major industry relocating to Marshall County and unfortunately that and hotel location tend to go together.
Woolfington says the money raised by the increase in the tax will be used to increase the web presence of Marshall County that he said was a necessity in the modern tourist economy. The money would also allow the county to take part in advertising and promotional activities to encourage people to visit successful county programs — such as the barn quilt tour — that currently he is unable to support financially.
While Council members were very sympathetic to Woolfington’s needs, the idea of raising a local tax was not attractive to many. While the tax is charged to those visiting the county rather than those who live here, Councilman Ralph Booker stated that “…when I’m traveling I hate paying that tax.”
Council President Matt Hassel stated that he sympathized with Woolfington’s plight but stated that “…we need to build the economy before we set another tax increase to make up for our losses.”
Councilman Fred Lintner stated that the fact that no innkeepers had approached the Council or Woolfington with objections “…speaks volumes…” as to whether the tax was perceived as a hardship by those in the industry.
The Council passed first reading of the increase with Hassel the lone vote against raising the innkeepers tax.