By Brett Milam
The Clermont Sun sat down with David Painter, a commissioner on the Board of County Commissioners to get his perspective on the hotel/motel lodging tax. The tax was put into HB 49, which passed on June 28, much to the derision of Union and Miami Township governments, as well as the city of Milford.
“The revenue derived from the increase in rate must be used to fund the construction and maintenance of sports and recreation facilities and to promote tourism through the county’s convention and visitors’ bureau. Unlike the tax currently levied, no portion of the revenue from the revenue derived from the increase in rate would be returned to the townships and municipal corporations in which the lodging transaction occurred,” the bill stated.
The overall tax rate would go from 6 percent to 7 percent.
Painter at the July 12 meeting of the BCC, try to assuage the fears of local governments by calling for meetings between all the stakeholders to hash out the issues regarding the tax.
“I will not enact any increase in the current Clermont County Motel/Hotel Lodging Tax without first fully disclosing all information pertaining to the said use of the additional tax revenue and hearing stakeholder concerns prior to a decision whereby the additional tax may be enacted,” Painter said.
Painter continued, “It is further the intent of this Board that a meeting is scheduled with the aforementioned parties at a mutually agreed upon convenient time and place, including members of the Clermont County Convention and Visitors Bureau, to provide open discussion of the economic opportunity that resulted in the Hotel/Motel Lodging Tax Amendment being included in HB 49.”
All of this came to a head at the July 26 meeting where Chris Hicks, a resident, had to be removed from the meeting during the “public participation” portion because his remarks were not germane, BCC President David Uible said.
“We read your email from 9 o’clock,” Uible responded. “I don’t feel you have anything to add that we’re working on that’s germane to the commissioners.”
The Sun got into all of that and more with Painter.
To start, Painter said was sworn in as commissioner in January and this particular issue actually stretches back to the 1980s. Part of his action the last few weeks has been trying to acquaint himself with that history.
“Now I come from a different industry; when people come with a project that they want to do, you have a meeting, which we always called a go-no-go meeting,” Painter said. “Where people sit down at the table and say, ‘This is the project we talked about with a potential developer, here is how we’re going to finance it and here are the contracts associated with that.”
Painter said one of the things he wanted to make sure is, is that none of that ever happened here with the proposed 1 percent increase in taxes.
“No one from the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has ever brought the Board of Commissioners a potential contract or a negotiated contract or anything like that for any type of sports facility,” he said.
The CVB’s role, as Painter said, is to attract venues to the area, which then entails hotel and motel stays and money spent at the local businesses to improve the “tax situation.”
Painter’s understanding is that the CVB got word in September that FC Cincinnati was looking to build a practice facility somewhere around the Cincinnati area.
“So immediately the CVB says, ‘Oh that would attract people to our area,'” Painter said. “‘What can we do to help you?’ And that’s how it got started.”
Before Painter was a commissioner, the CVB had come to the commissioners he said, and asked them to purchase the Red Barn property in the village of Batavia for that specific reason, to which the CVB was asked if they had a signed proposal or a contract, to which they did not have either. So the commissioners turned it down.
“So when they said no to make the deal or to actually continue with the negotiations, the CVB looked for a different way to finance that project and the financing was, where do they get their money from? Hotel/motel tax ― that’s where they got started,” Painter said. “When you look at a potential project like that, potential projects come to the commissioners all the time. And then two weeks later, they notify you that you’re off the shortlist, so you don’t act on all those immediately. There’s a process there.”
Painter does understand, in part, the CVB’s perspective, however.
“In defense of the CVB, I understand that when you talk to people and you’re coming up with business proposals and you don’t have all the details, that you don’t share all those details. The reason you don’t, if someone asks you a question and you don’t know, that doesn’t give anyone a form of confidence,” Painter said.
Painter also cautioned that this tax, even though it was passed in a House bill does not mean it will be enacted here in the county.
“Before you can enact any tax in Clermont County, that tax has to be brought forward to the commissioners to vote on,” Painter said. “It’s never been brought forward to the commissioners, and it’s never been voted on and it’s never been enacted and it’s not been collected, so that’s been sitting there ― I think a lot of people miss that point; there is no tax collected.”
In essence, the old adage holds true: The buck stops with the commissioners.
“There never was a signed contract; it never got to that point,” Painter said.
Painter thought it fair to say the CVB perhaps was overzealous in trying to get FC Cincinnati into Clermont.
“I think that everybody looks for the big opportunity that would really bring something really spectacular into our county and one of the things that I want to make sure is that our questioning of this particular situation doesn’t deter that spirit, to where people come and say, ‘Well if it’s kinda gonna be scrutinized like this, then I really don’t want to do that,'” Painter said.
Painter said he wants to ensure the county is still business friendly and a great county. The commissioner’s’ job is to provide managerial expertise and oversight, however, he added.
As for the call to have a meeting to bring all relevant stakeholders together in the interest of transparency, Painter said he wants two meetings.
“We want to have a meeting to talk about how we got here. You know, a lessons learned. How did we get to this point to where transparency issues came up and the things that we’re dealing with now? How do we prevent that? How do we proceed from here?,” he said.
Painter continued, “But since we have no deal and there’s no proposal on the table, there won’t be a second meeting unless something like that comes up.”
But coming out of that first meeting, Painter said he’s just looking to offer clarity.
On Hicks being thrown out, Painter said he has had discussions with Hicks, but said the president has the ability to recognize you or not recognize you or if you don’t have anything that “pertains to the board.”
“I totally understand Mr. Hicks; I totally understand the message. I don’t disagree with his message. His message for transparency and conservative government, I agree with, not a problem,” Painter said. “There are many different ways to deliver that and some are more effective than others.”
He added, “There’s nothing wrong with a citizen or a taxpayer that has a different perspective on something to express their disagreement,” Painter said. “I totally understand that.”
Humphrey: It’s a long process
At the August 2 meeting, Commissioner Ed Humphrey added some further historical background perspective on the CVB, which was started around 1980 and taxation. At the time, an excise tax of 3 percent was placed on transactions to “transient guests,” Humphrey said. That excise tax is then evenly distributed between the CVB and the host township or city, i.e., 1.5 percent to each.
“If the township or city adds their own excise tax of up to 3 percent, then the township or city receives 3 percent and the CVB receives 3 percent,” Humphrey said. “In Clermont County, each township or city has chosen to add their own 3 percent excise tax, bringing the total excise tax for transient rooms to 6 percent.”
Humphrey added, “No one had concerns about the townships and city doubling the ‘transient tax,’ but now some have concerns about moving the total tax from 6 percent to 7 percent for a 17 percent increase to the excise tax for ‘transient guests.'”
Senator Joe Uecker added the language to the House bill, Humphrey said, that made the contract time deadline of Jan. 1, 2018, for completion of an agreement and the tax would not start until the contract was in place.
The next step, Humphrey said, is for the CVB and the sports team to complete the agreement and sign it, but “in light of recent negative publicity,” this may be a difficult task, he said.
“The sports team may just choose another county to be a partner,” he said. “If and when the agreement is completed and signed by the sports team and the CVB, the CVB will ask the Clermont County Commissioners to place the excise tax on the transient guest charges at the Clermont County Hotels.”
The commissioners, for their part, will then review the details of the agreement, Humphrey said, and share it and see input from all relevant parties.
“This is not a ‘secret tax’ and will be properly vetted when we have all the details and can make an informed decision,” Humphrey said. “It all takes time.”
In short, the commissioners can’t talk about it because they won’t know any of the details until the end of the year, Humphrey said.
The CVB, as of press time, has not gotten back to The Sun to offer comment.