County Council Considers Bill To Increase Hotel Tax Rate

The panel is expected to vote on the measure on Aug. 30th.

Frederick, Md (KM)  The Frederick County Council on Monday night took testimony from a large number of people on a proposed increase in the hotel rental tax. Under the ordinance, the levy charged to guests who stay in local hotels would go from a 3% to 5% rate.

In addition to promoting the county to tourists, part of the revenues would be used to help pay for a proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center. Local entrepreneur Darryl Boffman, who does a lot of business traveling, says such a facility will be a plus for Frederick. “All these metropolitan areas that I go that have hotels downtown, their downtowns are vibrant,” he said. “These hotels are booked.”

But there was some testimony in opposition, including Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano. “This bill is a terribly discriminatory piece of legislation. It’s what we call in Annapolis ‘a red-headed Eskimo.'” he said. “It is a bill that is solely directed to help one hotel in Frederick, and to say the heck with all of the other hoteliers in Frederick city and the County.”

One of his clients is Randy Cohen, the owner of the Holiday Inn near the FSK Mall. He said if this tax increase passes, it would mean that he and other hotel owners would be financing the competition. “The tax is very harmful to the long term of fairness of the people trying to build hotels in this county,” he said.

But Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Elizabeth Cromwell disagrees. “No other hotel in the county will be collecting hotel rental taxes to pay for any aspect of the downtown Frederick hotel and conference center facility,” she said. “Only the tax increase collected from the downtown hotel itself will be used to pay down the public portion of that project.”

Plamondon Hospitality Partners has been chosen to construct the hotel and conference center which will be located at the former Frederick News-Post building on East Patrick Street. It will  have 207 rooms. Plamondon is expected to pay for the hotel, but receive some public funding for the conference center.

Supporters say such a facility has been needed in the downtown for a long time. Jane Weir of Middletown questioned that. “There’s a huge glut of meeting space in this country. And the idea of inducing demand by raising the hotel tax to compete with other counties is absurd to me,” she said.

Opponents have called it “corporate welfare.” But John Fieseler, the Executive Director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County, said this type of arrangement of using public funding to construct a conference center is not unusual. “It’s not uncommon for hotel taxes to be used to help provided needed meeting space. The North Bethesda Marriott and Conference Center down the road is a nearby example,” he said.

The County Council is scheduled to vote on this tax increase on Tuesday, August 30th.