A proposed hotel/motel tax increase would mean $800,000 annually to pay for trails and parks throughout Perimeter Center that for years have just been plans sitting on shelves, according to city officials.
Dunwoody, Chamblee and Brookhaven recently seized on the idea to fund some of their multi-million dollar plans by raising their city hotel/motel taxes to create a new revenue stream. The cities are asking for their hotel/motel taxes to be increased from 5 percent to 8 percent.
City councils of all three cities passed resolutions in recent weeks asking their state lawmakers to push through the required legislation for the tax increases. The extra money would go to pay for new parks, trails and green space in all three cities that would drive tourism and economic development to their areas.
City leaders are making a mad dash to try to convince local state legislators to pass legislation backing the tax increase by the General Assembly’s March 30 adjournment. If just one lawmaker doesn’t sign on, however, there is no tax increase.
Dunwoody Economic Development Director Michael Starling acknowledged the idea came to him and others to ask for the tax increase after learning Brookhaven and Chamblee were doing so.
For Dunwoody, the tax increase would mean an extra $800,000 annually to fund trails and green spaces that have long been planned for Perimeter Center, including Perimeter Park at the Dunwoody MARTA station, an idea that dates back to 2014.
The Dunwoody Convention and Visitors Bureaus would also receive $800,000 as part of the tax increase to go toward marketing and branding the new trails and parks in Perimeter Center “to give it a sense of place,” said CVB Executive Director Katie Williams.
State Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) was not optimistic the city could get the support it needed from legislators and told the City Council Feb. 27 the proposal was likely “dead on arrival.”
He said he was willing to introduce the bill but that state Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven), who represents both cities, would not sign onto it because she did not want to be perceived as a legislator who raised taxes.
Hanson did not return a request for comment about Taylor’s statement by press time. She has only said previously via email that there was no legislation for her to sign onto.
State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), whose district includes parts of Brookhaven and Chamblee, said he has serious reservations about Dunwoody’s resolution because it does not include a specific project list.
“If I was against a SPLOST with no project list, how can I possibly support this?” Millar said of his vocal opposition to last year’s special local option sales tax referendum for DeKalb schools.
Millar and Taylor also criticized the city for the “haphazard” approach it took in passing the resolution in the waning days of the session and with no specific plans of how to spend the money. The council approved the resolution in a 3-1 vote, with Councilmember Terry Nall voting no because he opposed the rushed process.
Millar also noted that because the hotels have already signed contracts with corporate clients for 2017, the tax increase cannot go into effect until next year. That means the tax increase can wait, he said. He did, however, say a good thing about the proposed tax hike is that it does not affect those living in Dunwoody.
Regardless of what Taylor and Millar say, city staff, CVB members and Mayor Denis Shortal said they are continuing full speed ahead in lobbying their legislators to win support for the tax increase.
Starling, Shortal, Williams and Bill Grant of the CVB all came together recently to sit around a conference table at City Hall to stress the importance of the funding. They say they have projects lined up and ready to go as soon as there is money.
The park at the MARTA station is one, but there are also numerous Perimeter Community Improvement Districts plans, such as the 2012 PCIDs Commuter Trails Plan that outlines multi-use trails throughout Perimeter Center that would connect to trails in Sandy Springs and Brookhaven.
“These are real projects, on paper,” Starling said.
Potential green spaces that would be funded by revenues from the tax increase include one adjacent to the Perimeter Center Parkway flyover bridge and another off Perimeter Center East at the Perimeter Center East exit off I-285.
Perimeter Center currently has no significant green space, a complaint made by council members, residents and also people visiting the city. Shortal said there is an immediate need for outdoor activities, not only for those staying in hotels but for residents living in Perimeter Center and throughout Dunwoody.
Williams said a recent survey of visitors staying at Dunwoody hotels revealed the Number One question asked at front desks when visitors check in is, “Where is the nearest trail to go for a run?”
Jim Sprouse, executive director of the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, said his agency only becomes involved in issues such as proposed hotel/motel tax increases if hotel management asks for it.
He did say the idea of using a hotel/motel tax to pay for new parks and trails “does not seem to fit the intent” of what the money is designated for.
The city of Atlanta, for example, is using its hotel/motel tax to help cover costs for the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. As the home for the Atlanta Falcons and United FC, the stadium will attract tourists to the city.
Parks and trails are “a gray area,” Sprouse said. “I would question how they drive tourism.”
Tammy Thompson, external affairs director for the PCIDs, said initial planning for several projects has been completed and it makes sense to prioritize the projects. “Funds from the hotel/motel tax would expedite this process and allow for implementation of these much-needed projects,” she said in a statement.
Jason Caughron, vice chair of the Dunwoody CVB and general manager of Hampton Inn & Suites, said hotels are in a “tough position” because they would have to pass costs on the tax increase to customers. But he and other hotel general managers in the Perimeter Center support the city’s initiative as a way to ensure money goes toward attracting customers.
“It’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday where we need some help,” he said. “One of the biggest things that can be done is to drive more business to the market on the weekend.”
Bill Grant, secretary and treasurer for the CVB, said the proposed tax increase is “almost a hidden source of revenue.”
The need to offer something for visitors to do when the stay at a hotel in Perimeter Center is crucial in ensuring Dunwoody attracts tourism and economic development, Grant said. Parks and trails do those things, especially for weekend travelers, he said.