By Peggy Mackenzie
The Greenbrier Valley Theatre hosted a public service event Tuesday presented by attorney Brian Helmick for the purpose of explaining the hotel/motel tax expenditures to an audience of community leaders from across the county. In attendance were mayors, city administrators, county commissioners, state legislators, and others with positions within the courthouse and the various municipalities.
As Helmick admitted, hotel/motel tax expenditures wasn’t a riveting topic, but how the funds are used as far as state, county, and municipal governance goes, have shown to be sometimes unclear. As an example, he mentioned the recent Greenbrier County case involving the Fine Arts Building & Aquatic Center on the campus of NRCTC, which was ruled an invalid expenditure of the hotel/motel tax revenues by Judge Charles M. Vickers.
Helmick said in 1985, state legislature adopted Article 18: Hotel Occupancy Tax to the West Virginia Code, which permitted any county or municipality to impose and collect a privilege tax upon the occupancy of hotel rooms located within its taxing jurisdiction. In Greenbrier County, that means 3-percent of hotel/motel tax revenues are split between the county commission and the convention and visitors bureau to be applied for purposes directly related to the promotion of tourism.
Helmick listed the 10 permissible hotel/motel tax expenditures which included the construction, maintenance, and operation of convention facilities, such as arenas, auditoriums, and civic centers; construction, operation or maintenance of public parks, tourist information centers and recreation facilities; the promotion of the arts and historic sites; beautification projects; medical care and emergency services; and support and operation of the Hatfield-McCoy Recreation Area.
Helmick pointed out that some expenditures are spelled out in detail, while others are basically untested gray areas. The intent, he implied, is to make use of the code as a way to address the unique needs of a given county, so long as the basic tenet is kept in mind that the purpose of the tax is “to put heads in beds.” An example of a gray area could be the application of the tax revenues toward the upgrading of the Greenbrier County Courthouse air conditioning system, a project the county commission is considering. As an historic building listed by the local historical landmarks commission, it may qualify as a valid hotel/motel tax expenditure project, but at this point, it is an untested application.
The event was sponsored by the governmental affairs committee of the state chamber of commerce. Helmick is an attorney with Spilman Thomas & Battle, a law firm in Charleston. He has recently become a resident of Lewisburg.