Mayor 'shocked, embarrased' by vote

Donelle Pardee Whiting

In a surprise 4-3 vote, Washington City Council members voted against raising the hotel/motel tax from 5 percent to 6 percent at their regular meeting Monday night.

The extra 1 percent would have been invested with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau for marketing and promoting tourism in Peoria and all surrounding communities.

Mayor Gary Manier said that prior to the vote, he was confident the ordinance would pass.

“I knew Jim Gee would vote no,” because he had consistently voiced his objections, Manier said after the meeting. “I am shocked and embarrassed. I thought we were on board with the idea.”

The issue first came about in the spring when Brent Lonteen, president and chief executive officer for the PACVB appeared before city leaders with a request to the hotel/motel tax increase and for that money to then be invested with PACVB.

Without the extra funding, PACVB would not be able to continue doing what it has done in the past because of increased costs and a fund shortage, Lonteen said during the April 14 committee of the whole meeting.

Peoria was the first community to pass the hotel/motel tax increase.

Before Washington’s aldermen would vote on the issue, they chose to wait and see what happened with Morton and East Peoria.

Because Peoria and Washington are both home rule communities, they could vote on the matter at any time.

However, Morton and East Peoria are not home rule municipalities; therefore, each needed a vote by the state legislature to allow the increase.

On Aug. 26, Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed a bill that would allow Morton and East Peoria to raise the tax 6 percent. However, state legislators, led by Senators. Dave Koehler and James DiLep and Representatives. Mike Smith, David Leitch and Aaron Schock, overrode the governor’s veto.

Morton Village Board members passed the hotel tax increase Oct. 6 and approved investing that revenue with PACVB at their Oct. 20 meeting.

East Peoria City Council approved the increase at its Oct. 28 meeting, but will decide on whether to give the added revenue to the PACVB at a later date.

Pekin leaders are still undecided.

Aldermen Jim Gee, Gene Schneider, Dave Dingledine and Don Brubaker voted against the increase.

Aldermen Todd Clanin, Bob Brucks and Al Howerter voted for the increase.

Alderman Jim Newman was absent.

Newman, who is also a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, said the regular ZBA meeting was moved to Monday because of Election Day.

“I looked at both agendas and did not see anything controversial on the city’s agenda,” he said, adding there were matters facing the ZBA that needed finished.

“I’m in favor of the increase,” Newman said, adding he was under the impression that the council, for the most part, was for the increase.

“I didn’t expect it (not to pass). I thought we had discussed it and everyone was in favor,” he said, adding, “I would rather have the tax than have revenue taken out of Washington’s (budget).”

Although the hotel/motel tax increase did not pass, Washington’s leaders said they are not opposed to giving 1 percent of current hotel tax revenue to the PACVB on a two-year trial basis.

Schneider, the newest member to the council, said he did not see a reason to raise the tax.

“However small that amount is, I think it would be better spent on Washington business,” he said, adding he researched the proposal and thinks it probably needs further discussion and then another vote.

“We need to have a plan,” Schneider said, adding he would like to see tangible results before committing to any type of increase.

Dingledine said he would not approve the increase until he sees more data that supports a benefit to Washington.

“This isn’t a tax increase for Washington residents,” Lonteen said after the vote. “It isn’t a property tax, sales tax or income tax increase. It’s mainly for people from out of town, even out of state.”

However, Dingledine disagreed. He said he believes Washington residents will be affected, especially when they have friends or family come for overnight visits.

“With all due respect, this vote sends a wrong signal, that Washington doesn’t support the region.” Lonteen said

Currently, visitors to Washington pay a total hotel tax of 11 percent. Six percent of that is the state’s share.

Lonteen said visitors to Chicago’s hotels and motels pay about 16 percent. Bloomington guests pay 12 percent.

The increase would have added $1 for a $100 hotel bill.

The rate for one person at Super 8 is $45.99 plus tax per night. At Sleep Inn a room for one person per night is from $69.99 to $79.99.

If the tax increase had passed, the next step would have been signing an intergovernmental agreement between Washington and the PACVB that would have included regular reports from the bureau about how its efforts were helping the city.

One example of how the bureau helps the city, Lonteen said after the meeting, is through funding for such events as the Tournament of Champions in Washington.

This year, the committee will receive $3,000 to help with the cost of hosting the event. All but two games will be played in Washington Nov. 26 through Nov. 29.

Those games will be in Eureka.

Based on 2007 figures, Lonteen estimates the increase will generate $200,000 in Peoria, $40,000 in Morton, $25,000 in Pekin and would have generated $8,000 in Washington.

East Peoria leaders estimated the generated income from its seven hotels to be $140,000.