Tourism tax floated during budget deliberations

(Gazette file photo)

At least one member of County council is interested in the idea of the municipality deriving benefit from a tax on its thriving tourism industry.

During Monday’s 2019 budget deliberations, Athol representative Jamie Forrester asked about the possibility of introducing a new tax to help the municipality maintain its infrastructure.

“Is there a way of putting a tax on tourism operations? Possibly a one-to-two per cent tax that’s just there all the time?” he asked, adding he’d like to see something that’s simple and easy to collect.

“Can we do something across the board that goes directly to roads or infrastructure. Can we legally do that?”

He also asked whether council could add a tax class like those for agriculture, commercial, and industry.

Chief administrative officer James Hepburn said those classes are designated by the Province.

“We have to tax within what the province prescribes for us. There’s nothing that allows us to do what you’re thinking of,” he said.

Hepburn did say that council could explore the adoption of a four-per-cent accommodations tax as permitted by the province. With that tax, Hepburn said the County would have the opportunity to retain 50 per cent of monies collected.

Director of community development and strategic planning Neil Carbone added that tax would have to be applied to all roofed accommodations and aded that it’s a value-added tax that is applied to a consumer, not an operator. Under the legislation, he said a visitor pays and a operator must collect a tax and remit the funds. He said staff had already been investigating the concept and it planned to meet with accommodations providers for consultation that could lead to a recommendation to council. A November report to committee of the whole estimated that based on occupancy and average room rates, the municipality could make as much as $836,500 annually from the tax.

Mayor Steve Ferguson said council could expect a “more fulsome discussion” about the pros and cons of exploring the municipal accommodations tax early this year.