Visit Bentonville OKs lodging tax increase

Posted: November 3, 2017 at 1:03 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette File Photo/ANTHONY REYES Downtown Bentonville Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017.

BENTONVILLE -- Now it's up to City Council on whether or not visitors will pay an increased lodging tax when staying in the city.

The Advertising and Promotions Commission unanimously approved increasing the lodging tax from 2 to 3 percent at its meeting Thursday. Commissioners tabled the decision in September because three commissioners were absent. All seven were present Thursday.

Public Art

Bentonville Advertising and Promotion Commission approved spending $18,500 for “Sassy the Sasquatch” to be at the southwest corner of Northwest A Street and Tiger Boulevard. Sassy is a 10-foot-tall Sasquatch sculpture made out of sheet metal and bike chains. Amanda Willshire is the artist.

Source: Staff Report

Bentonville has a 2 percent tax on lodging and 1 percent tax on restaurants and prepared food. State law allows up to 3 percent on each.

The money goes to Visit Bentonville, which is governed by the Advertising and Promotion Commission, to support events and facilities helping increase tourism to the city.

Rogers raised its hotel tax from 2 percent to 3 percent in July so Visit Rogers could boost its advertising efforts. Rogers doesn't have a restaurant tax.

The 1 percent increase to the lodging tax would be about a $400,000 increase to Visit Bentonville's $2.1 million budget, according to Kalene Griffith, president and CEO.

Griffith asked commissioners if they preferred the new revenue went into the operations budget, which is then split between a parks and facility budget and advertising and promotions budget, as revenue is handled now, or if they wanted it all to go toward new facilities in the city.

"Personally, I would like to continue doing it how we're doing it," Griffith said, explaining it would allow more freedom for the commissioners to adjust the budget if there was a capital project that needed money.

Also, commissioners talked during their planning meeting in August about wanting to support more festival-type events in the coming years, she added.

The need for more money to help events was apparent at Thursday's meeting as eight events next year requested $62,500 but the budget only had $49,600 left.

The commission opted to give $44,000, awarding most event organizers less than requested.

"I think the fact that we had so many interesting, diverse requests today and how much of our budget for 2018 is already allocated for these projects...it just underscores the fact that this effort continues to grow and just bringing our tax up to where Rogers already is makes sense to me," said Lee Culpepper, commissioner.

Commission chairman Chris Sooter said he wasn't sure how much political support there would be put all of the new revenue into both advertising and parks budgets.

"I think you're going to fight the perception that we're growing our entity rather than growing the funding of our facilities," he said.

Once the commission approves the tax increase, it'll be up to Griffith to promote it to the mayor and City Council, Sooter said.

Sooter also represents Ward 2 on the council.

"As an organization, we continue to grow and we're very effective in what we're doing," Griffith said. "We have to not forget our role as an organization. You can't not have staff to lead the effort for what's going on. You can't not advertise for the things we have in our community."

It's ultimately the council's decision on which budgets the new revenue would go to since it's the governing body that approves ordinances, Sooter said. The tax increase will require a new ordinance.

Commissioners decided not to vote on where the money should go, but instead told Griffith the way the commission was leaning.

In an informal poll, four commissioners said, by raising their hands, they'd be in favor of adding the revenue the way it's currently being organized.

NW News on 11/03/2017