|By Debby Woodin, The Joplin Globe,
Mo.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 14, 2010 --JOPLIN, Mo. -- A local association that represents Joplin's hotels and motels has issues with the way the city is promoting tourism and says it will mount a campaign to repeal the city's motel tax if the city does not resolve those issues to the group's satisfaction.
A three-page letter signed by three officers of the Southwest Missouri Lodging Association says that receipts of the city's 4 percent lodging tax are dropping each month in a "year-over-year decline" and alleges the decline is because of mismanagement of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
They also say that the city is disregarding or not using suggestions that the CVB advisory board is, by city ordinance, entitled to make to the city administration.
CVB Director Vince Lindstrom and City Manager Mark Rohr said a number of factors, the state of the economy foremost among them, are affecting room sales and the corresponding tax proceeds.
Lindstrom cited a number of special events that have been created to draw visitors to Joplin.
Rohr said the city is working on changes intended to give all city boards more involvement in city budgetary decisions and other advisory duties allowed by city charter or ordinance.
Lower motel tax revenues are a symptom of a reduction in hotel and motel occupancy rates of 1.5 to 2 times the national and state averages, according to a letter attributed to Pete Hall, president; Christopher Beyer, vice president; and Jon Patterson, secretary-treasurer, of the lodging association.
Hall and Patterson could not be reached Monday for comment. Beyer did not return a message left at his office seeking comment.
The work of the CVB to promote tourism and visits to Joplin is funded by proceeds of the motel tax.
The letter says the lodging tax revenue fell by $27,500 in 2008 and by an additional $113,200 in 2009.
Records of the city's finance department show that motel tax proceeds were $1,141,469 in fiscal 2008, an increase of $42,629 over the total for fiscal 2007. Proceeds were down in fiscal 2009 to $1,009,659, a drop of $131,810, or 11.5 percent.
The lodging association's letter does not say if it is citing calendar year or fiscal year figures. The city accounts for tax proceeds by fiscal year that ends Oct. 31.
The letter lists 12 specific grievances with the CVB, the City Council and city administrators in addition to making general allegations that the city has acted "inappropriately, unethically and irresponsibly."
Several of the complaints focus on allegations that the CVB or the city made staff assignments and board changes without the involvement of the CVB advisory board.
One complaint alleges that members of the CVB advisory board were denied copies of the CVB budget, which they wanted to review to develop spending recommendations to be made to the City Council.
The city manager acknowledged Monday that a city ordinance gives the board that duty. He said that, acting on a comment made about it at a CVB board meeting three months ago, he instructed the city staff to look at the duties assigned by city charter or ordinances to all city boards and committees.
That information is being used to update city practices on receiving policies and budgets from all the boards, Rohr said.
Rohr said he believes there are factors driving down hotel stays that are not the fault of the CVB.
"The economy has a negative impact on most everyone," he said. "We've also had some local circumstances. The (Downstream) casino's been constructed, and I've heard that they do have quite a bit of business during the week.
"Highway 249 makes it easier for people to go around the city than to stop in the city."
Ice storms in recent years filled the hotels, which inflated numbers compared with normal winter seasons, he said.
Rohr said the CVB director has worked on creating special events to promote visits to Joplin.
The lodging association's letter indicates that the CVB should instead work on attracting national conventions.
Lindstrom said the city's lack of a brand-name airline and a large convention center limits the city's ability to attract large-scale conventions.
He said that's why he has been building special events such as Kites Over Route 66 in the spring, the Mother Road Marathon in the fall and the Joplin Holiday Experience in December. Those events are designed to bring overnight visitors at times during the year when the hospitality industry could use more guests, he said.
In addition, the CVB has recruited Going On Faith, a national organization that promotes religious tourism, to visit Joplin in August as a potential destination for meeting planners and group-tour operators.
Rohr said the city is working on plans that he could not yet discuss that could increase tourism to Joplin.
He said the city also is trying to find a reliable way to measure the impact of the events and how many lodging customers they bring to Joplin.
City Attorney Brian Head said the motel tax could be repealed by ordinance upon the approval of the City Council or by an election initiative.
City Clerk Barbara Hogelin said it would take 5,985 signatures on an initiative petition to place the issue on an election ballot.
Asked what the effect would be if the tax were repealed, Rohr said, "I don't know what they have planned specifically, so I don't know how I can respond to that."
Without the tax, the city likely could not operate a tourism bureau to promote hotels and restaurants, Rohr said.
In 1983, local motel owners won a court decision to throw out a 3 percent motel tax, which had been imposed by the City Council as a license tax. The state Supreme Court ruled it was an invalid sales tax in that it had not been OK'd by a vote of the people. It had been intended then to fund industrial development as well as tourism.
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