One percent not detrimental

Times-Reporter editorial board

What should have been a straightforward agenda item turned into a controversial mess.

At the Nov. 3 Washington City Council meeting, council members voted down a 1 percent increase in the hotel/motel tax.

The issue first came to Washington at the April 14 committee-of-the-whole meeting.

President and chief executive officer of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Brent Lonteen went before the council and gave his pitch.

He said because of rising costs, the PACVB could not continue the level of marketing for the Peoria area.

He was asking area councils to raise the municipal share of the hotel/motel tax to 6 percent and then invest the income from the additional 1 percent with the bureau.

In return, the PACVB promised to use its resources to help promote, and encourage visitors, to Washington, Morton, East Peoria and Pekin.

However, East Peoria and Morton are not home rule, so they needed state approval.

Washington officials said they would be supportive of investing 1 percent of the hotel tax with the PACVB on a conditional two-year trial.

They want to see results before they would be willing to continue giving money to the bureau.

That makes sense.

Local state legislators jumped through hoops to pass a bill allowing Morton and East Peoria the ability to raise the tax, which they did.

Now it was Washington’s turn.

Right from the start, alderman Jim Gee made it clear he was against the tax.

Gee again voiced his disapproval, saying it was not right to stick it to visitors.

Others said itdoes add to the cost, but 1 percent of the total hotel bill is not an amount that would prevent someone from staying in Washington.

When the vote was called, Mayor Gary Manier was surprised by a 4-3 vote against.

He said he knew Gee would vote against. However, “no” votes by Don Brubaker, Dave Dingledine and Gene Schneider took him by surprise.

Since then, Manier said, he has been inundated by calls.

Accusations that Washington considers itself special were leveled.

Lonteen said Washington is projecting the wrong impression with the vote. Local  legislators who fought to override Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s veto of the bill that would allow Morton and East Peoria to raise the bed tax in their respective communities said they did so thinking Washington was on board.

The PACVB has already worked to help Washington stand out by giving the Tournament of Champions committee money to help host the event. This year, Lonteen said, the committee received $3,000.

Dingledine said he needed more information because he was not at the original committee of the whole meeting. If he was not sure about the issue, he had plenty of time to get the details he needed.

The same is true of Schneider, who was not a member of the council at the time.

The current tax already goes toward promoting Washington, and that amount should not be lessened.

When the issue comes up again, it would be a mistake to vote it down.

Approve it and give that money to the PACVB. If Washington does not see a definitive benefit in two years, revisit the decision.