The Frederick County hotel tax was increased from 3 percent to 5 percent on Tuesday, but not before a final round of County Council arguments.
The council’s 4-3 vote brings to an end months of deliberation over the tax rate.
Some Republican officials in the county have opposed the increase. The Republican majority in the county’s General Assembly delegation supported a bill that would have capped the tax rate at 3 percent.
But Democrats and other officials, including Frederick’s Republican mayor, Randy McClement, have said the increase will help boost tourism in the county.
Hotel rental taxes are collected by Frederick County. About 97 percent of the revenue is passed through to the Tourism Council of Frederick County.
At issue in the proposals for an increase is a plan by the tourism council to divert a portion of that revenue to a downtown hotel incentive program. That program would allow a proposed downtown Frederick hotel and conference center to receive back up to 85 percent of the hotel rental tax it pays in.
That stipulation is included in a memorandum of understanding signed by County Executive Jan Gardner (D) and Dave Ziedelis, president of the tourism council. The MOU takes effect with the council’s vote to increase the tax.
The council was split by party line on the issue. Republicans Tony Chmelik, Kirby Delauter and Billy Shreve voted against the increase. Democrats M.C. Keegan-Ayer, Jessica Fitzwater and Jerry Donald, along with now-unaffiliated Council President Bud Otis, voted in favor.
Chmelik said he opposed the increase for a number of reasons. One was that the increase had taken on the feel of “targeted legislation” since the proposed downtown hotel and conference center owner, Plamondon Hospitality Partners, would get a financial benefit through the MOU, Chmelik said.
Chmelik said he believed that the money could come from other sources, including policy changes at the city government level.
“Why is this council going to carry the water for the city of Frederick? Make it a special taxing district, mayor,” Chmelik said in comments directed to McClement.
Donald said he took a long time to consider the tax increase before voting to support it. After hearing about increased tourism funding for Frederick County’s smaller towns that will also come from the higher tax rate, Donald said he was convinced the revenue is a good thing for the county.
Zoning notices get unanimous approval
The council voted 7-0 to approve a bill from Donald that will increase notices for zoning changes in the county.
The bill requires that an entity that requests a zoning change — the county or the property owner — post signs along major public roads before Planning Commission and County Council hearings.
The bill also requires that the county’s Division of Planning and Permitting mail letters to adjoining properties before hearings about the potential change.