BUCKHANNON – Upshur County has neglected to collect hotel/motel occupancy tax for businesses operating as vacation getaway properties that lie outside Buckhannon city limits for more than two years, according to information provided at Thursday’s weekly Upshur County Commission meeting.
The last time the county collected the 6 percent hotel/motel occupancy – required by a county ordinance first passed in 2001 and then revised in 2007 – was in April 2015, according to assistant county administrator Tabatha Perry. The revised ordinance – which raised the occupancy tax from 3 percent to 6 percent – went into effect Jan. 1, 2008, according to a copy of the ordinance. It requires owners of bed-and-breakfasts, hotels or vacation rental homes lying outside municipal limits to remit the 6 percent tax to the county commission on the 15th of each month.
The issue surfaced at Thursday’s meeting when the county commission discussed a letter it had received from vacation rental property owners George and Lannette Karnes, who had requested a waiver on the collection of back hotel/motel occupancy taxes. The Karnes, who own a property in Ten Mile that’s listed on the Vacation Rental By Owner website, www.vrbo.com, were one of five business owners in the county who had received an Aug. 28 letter from the commission asking them to begin remitting the 6 percent hotel/motel occupancy tax to the commission as well as all back taxes.
The Karnes notified the commission that they were unaware of the ordinance requiring them to charge and remit the 6 percent tax and were unable to calculate how much they owed in back hotel/motel occupancy taxes.
Three percent of the 6 percent benefits the Upshur County CVB, while the county retains the remaining 3 percent, which may be used for purposes delineated in West Virginia State Code Chapter 7, Article 8, Section 1, according to executive director of the CVB Laura Meadows and Perry.
Perry said upon realizing the county hadn’t collected hotel/motel occupancy taxes from operational hospitality businesses since 2015, the commission sent an Aug. 28 letter to all five business owners requesting that they begin remitting the 6 percent tax in addition to sending in all back hotel/motel taxes.
Commission president Terry Cutright said he hadn’t been aware of the tax either.
“I want to be clear that this is only on the hotel/motel taxes and the occupancy taxes,” Cutright said Thursday. “I didn’t even know the county had a hotel/motel tax because all the hotels are in the city limits, but I guess since 2015, we haven’t received anything.
“Since [the commission and the Karnes family] weren’t aware of it, it’d be my recommendation that we just start forward from here,” Cutright said. “I know we had one (business) that sent in back taxes when they got the letter, but I think they should be refunded.”
Although some counties have tax remittance forms that are distributed to vacation rental property owners, Upshur County did not have one; however, one is being created,according to Perry.
Commissioner Sam Nolte remarked, “Because all the hotels are in the city limits, I don’t think this tax has been on anybody’s radar.”
Commissioner Troy “Buddy” Brady made a motion that the county commission begin collecting the occupancy tax in October for the month of September, but forgive all back taxes.
“It’s hard to pay a tax that you don’t know that you owe,” Brady said. “It would be my motion going ahead that we collect the 6 percent that they know of going forward … and anything behind that, I think we should forgive that and start out with a new slate. I hate to give up that money, but I think that’s the right thing to do in the situation.”
Nolte seconded Brady’s motion, which passed unanimously.
Following Thursday’s meeting, Perry said the sheriff’s office is responsible for collecting the hotel/motel occupancy tax.
“Per West Virginia code, the sheriff of the county is the county’s agent for administration and collection of the tax,” Perry said. “However, the (county) ordinance states that the tax should be remitted to the commission at the commission’s address.
“Proper procedures will be implemented moving forward,” Perry added. “Different options are being explored to make it easier for the business.”
County clerk Carol Smith said the sheriff’s office is charged with collecting the hotel/motel tax because it oversees accounts receivable.
However, chief tax deputy Heather Parke with the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department, said she wasn’t aware of the tax either.
“It was nothing the former chief tax deputy had made me aware of when I started in August 2015,” Parke said Thursday afternoon. “It’s new to us as well as to the property owners.”
Perry said the county commission collected $4,046 in hotel/motel taxes from 2009-2013.
“But then in 2015, only $266 was collected,” she said.
Meadows said collecting the tax will be mutually beneficial to the county as well as the CVB.
“It’s just some extra funding that we can use to promote the area just a little bit more,” Meadows said Thursday. “It just goes into our advertising budget and helps with advertising and public relations campaigns. It can also help the county do whatever they’re trying to accomplish, but a lot of times people are just unaware of it.”
The city of Buckhannon collects a 6 percent hotel/motel occupancy tax, 70 percent of which is funneled into the Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau budget, while the other 30 percent is retained by the city of Buckhannon.
Hotel/motel occupancy taxes collected in county hospitality businesses are to be remitted to: Office of the Upshur County Commission, Attn: County administrator, 38 West Main St. – Room 302, Buckhannon, WV 26201.