CHA seeks answers to lodging tax language issue

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COLUMBIA — The Columbia Hospitality Association (CHA) is looking for answers from the city concerning the lodging tax increase proposal, saying there has been altered wording for the August ballot issue.

"This is being kind of pushed through without questions being answered," Michael Kelly, director of operations for the Tiger Hotel, as well as a member of CHA and Missouri Hotel Lodging Association, said.

In May, the Columbia City Council voted to place a proposal whether to raise the Columbia lodging tax to 5 percent on the August ballot.

According to the press release, "The most critical of these involves an apparent change in the original ordinance as last voted on by Columbia voters in 1999.  An alteration was made by the city in August 2012, after failing in its attempt to raise the lodging tax to 7%.  The words 'economic development' were added to the ordinance, which is contrary to the intent of the 1999 ordinance, directly undermining a law that was passed by a vote of the people, completely changing its objective."

"It fundamentally changes the way the current lodging tax is set up. It gives all 5 percent of the tax control to economic development division," Kelly said.

CHA believed the the language of the ballot is too vague.

If the city does pass this proposal, the newly formed economic development division would get full control of the lodging tax revenue. The city could use this money in part to improve the services and facilities of Columbia Regional Airport, including the creation of a $38 million new terminal.

"We don't feel this is about, per say the airport, we feel this is about the language of the ordinance, and there are issues with that current ballot language," Kelly said.

Kelly said he doesn't think there is enough time to be able to change the language before voting. It would take two more read-throughs before heading back to the city council, and that would take at least a few weeks.

"We've continually gone back to the city about the language of it, we've continued to ask different questions with minimal responds to it," Kelly said.

Kelly said the committee has gone back and forth with the city via email, but the city responded without an answer to their questions. CHA representatives requested a meeting with Columbia City Manager Mike Matthes to get a response, but Matthes canceled a meeting in late May two hours before it was supposed to start.

CHA is hoping this ballot measure is rejected in order to put what it calls a "solid plan" in place for a future ballot.

But Greg Cecil, Chair of the Columbia Regional Airport Advising Report, feels this is the best chance to bring improvements to the airport.

"We've talked about building a new terminal three or four years, even longer than that. And we've had plans come forward from engineering consulting firms. So we believe that increasing the lodging tax is the best way to go," Cecil said.

Cecil said building a new terminal would bring people outside Columbia to come to communicate and build influence.

Kelly agrees, but he doesn't like how the ballot issue came to pass.

"It's not about the airport, we would love to see a new airport, we would love to see the same things. Our concern is the language," Kelly said.