A correction has been made to this article.
BERRYVILLE — Clarke County is seeking state approval to increase a tax charged by lodging providers by up to 3% to generate more revenue to promote tourism.a
That tops the Board of Supervisors’ draft list of legislative priorities for 2020.
State law generally allows counties to impose a transient occupancy tax of up to 2%. The tax is charged by hotels, motels, boarding houses, campgrounds and other businesses providing guest accommodations. Clarke has been charging a 2% tax since 1996 when it adopted an ordinance to do so.
However, the state has given more than 50 counties permission to impose transient occupancy taxes of up to 5%. Permission came with the stipulation that any revenue collected above 2% not be put into the counties’ general funds, but instead be used toward activities designed to promote and increase tourism. Neighboring Frederick, Warren and Loudoun counties are among those having received that permission, the law states.
“We feel its’s reasonable,” board Chairman David Weiss said of the supervisors, “to ask for” that permission, too, because Clarke County has many tourist attractions.
“The hospitality industry feels it’s a tax that customers are willing to pay,” Weiss said. “They pay it in other communities.”
It’s not a big money-maker for the county. If the General Assembly approves the increase, it still wouldn’t be.
Budget documents show the county expects to receive about $23,564 from the tax in the current fiscal year. Increasing the tax from 2% to 5% would bring and additional $35,346. The total collection would be $58,910.
Tourism development largely is the responsibility of the county’s economic development office, which is budgeted to receive $68,100 in the current fiscal year.
The county’s Economic Development Advisory Committee recommended asking lawmakers to approve the higher taxation rate, said Weiss, the Buckmarsh District supervisor.
Second priority is a matter involving the state’s nutrient credit program for land conversion. Clarke officials prefer that credits be made available only from within the hydrologic unit code (HUC) that credits are needed, not from adjacent code units, the list states.
An HUC is a method of subdividing watersheds.
The matter is complicated to explain, Weiss admitted. He said, though, it involves a state program making tax credits available for reserving land in ways that limit water runoff into lakes, streams, rivers and other water bodies.
Limiting runoff reduces the amounts of phosphorous and nitrogen entering water sources. Those are nutrients occurring naturally within aquatic ecosystems, but having too much of them can cause problems. For instance, it causes algae to grow too fast in water. Too much nitrogen can create atmospheric pollutants such as ammonia and ozone, which can hurt plant growth and people’s ability to breathe, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Our position,” Weiss said of the county, is that “the program is a reasonable program, but credits should be purchased in the area where the problem is.”
Currently, credits can be purchased to benefit other places, he said.
Clarke is a small county, covering only about 178 square miles. Therefore, the program affects the county more so than larger counties, Weiss said.
Third on the priority list is encouraging the federal and state governments to help localities provide high-speed Internet to their residents. Officials say the service, also known as broadband, is now as important to communication as the telephone. Yet many parts of the county still do not have it.
The state recently awarded Clarke County a $209,513 grant to help Comcast extend broadband to White Post. Weiss said the county would like to see more such assistance made available.
“It would make it more cost-effective” for telecommunications companies, he said. Installing “infrastructure is very expensive. Private industry cannot justify the expense in areas not densely populated.”
With only about 14,000 residents, Clarke is not a densely-populated county.
Despite the need to expand broadband, the county would oppose any measures that either reduce local officials’ ability to control where telecommunications infrastructure is installed or would be too much of a financial liability, the list mentions.
Fourth priority is getting the state to meet its funding obligations for K-12 public education.
Localities should not have to fund educational programs they did not establish, Weiss said.
About 70% of the county’s budget pertains to the operation of county schools, he said. “Unfunded mandates” result in money being shifted within the budget to fund them, hurting the programs and services from which it was taken, he added.
Those four priorities are ranked in order of their importance to the supervisors. Other priorities are not.
The list also calls for the state to, among numerous other things:
• Meet its funding obligations for constitutional offices.
• Review and establish programs and rules as needed to ensure that water sources, as well as water quality and quantity, are protected.
• Restructure the state’s income, sales and use taxes “to address anachronistic (out-of-date) tax policies.”
The supervisors will consider adopting the legislative priority list during their Oct. 15 meeting. They plan to present the list to lawmakers during a luncheon at noon Oct. 17 at the Lone Oak Tavern near Boyce.