By JESSICA CRAWFORD • Daily Leader
Local motel owners addressed the Liberal City Commission at its Tuesday evening meeting in order to protest raising the transient tax from 2 to 4 percent. They claim with the unstable economy, they have already lost business – raising the transient tax would only add to that loss.
Jay Bhakta, owner of the Quality Inn, formerly known as the Gateway Inn, discussed how raising the tax would ultimately hinder business when it goes into effect this spring.
“I am here to oppose the transient tax on hotels,” he explained to the commission. “We think this is simply unfair to our business, it will simply drive our customers out. The new tax rate will be 13.95 percent.”
Vice Mayor Doug LaFreniere empathized with Bhakta and the motel owners present however, he explained that the tax has not been raised for 15 years, and it is time it is done.
“It is my understanding it has been 15 years since this tax was raised, and I have been on the commission for eight years,”
LaFreniere said. “Every year, we look at it, and each year we say ‘No, hotel owners don’t like it,’ but you are never going to like it, and that is it, and I accept that.
“I myself don’t think we live in an age anymore where people go down the road looking for vacancy signs – they plan their trips now,” he added. “I am going to fight for the people that live here. When we have to raise the mill, we don’t leave it to them but that is what we are elected to do whether they agree or disagree. This here, you have gone a long time without raising the transient tax.”
Bhakta expressed concern that the money the new tax would bring in would not be used for tourism alone.
“We would like to know just exactly where these funds are going,”
Bhakta asked. “Because we want to see it go directly to the hands of the tourism board, we don’t want these dollars to go elsewhere.”
City manager Mark Hall and finance director Chris Ford assured Bhakta that according to Kansas State law, the tax must go into the tourism budget.
“That would be easy to address,” Hall said. “They provide for the advertising for Liberal to draw to hotels. This bed tax opens up the opportunity to participate in the draw of conventions or the Kansas Sampler to Liberal to benefit hotels and the eating establishments.
“This does go into that budget process,” he added.
“The revenues from a guest tax can only be used for tourism activities,” Ford said. “That is state statute.”
Commissioners explained to Bhakta and the motel owners present that the transient tax will ultimately bring more people into Liberal to fill their motels thus improving their businesses.
The transient tax ordinance has already been through a second reading and will most likely pass this spring when a final reading of the ordinance comes before the commission.