Warren County Treasurer Michael Swan’s concerns that a 20 percent increase in occupancy tax receipts that was experienced over the summer were too good to be true turned out to be well-reasoned.
The county’s occupancy tax numbers had soared as of mid-August, with the receipts having increased 24.2 percent compared to the same period last year.
The receipts as of early October had slowed significantly, though, with the increase still a solid 5.75 percent but not tracking at the earlier numbers.
Swan had questioned whether the recent hiring of an additional auditor by his office to look at occupancy tax payments played a part in the increase in payments. The auditor has found discrepancies with a number of businesses that haven’t paid as required, or hadn’t been paying at all.
Occupancy tax money is supposed to be turned over to the county quarterly, but some lodgers turn theirs in late or make payments on schedules that are different each year. That makes comparisons during the year difficult, but a huge increase such as the one seen over the summer had not been seen in recent years.
County Deputy Treasurer Robert Lynch said the 20-plus percent increase noted in August appeared to be the result of a “timing issue” in which the county received an extra payment from some of the large hotels during the time period covered in 2018, when compared to 2017.
“It all depends on who pays when,” Warren County Tourism Director Joanne Conley said.
Conley said room sale surveys this summer showed that 2018 should be the first in over a decade in which over 1 million hotel and motel rooms that are part of the Smith Travel Report were rented in Warren County. Smith Travel Report consists of a sampling of lodging establishments that report their sales on a monthly basis to tourism leaders.
“If September for December are similar to last year, then we should be over 1 million rooms sold,” Conley said.
While the occupancy tax numbers returned to earth after what many viewed as a strong summer, sales tax numbers for the third quarter of the year — the bulk of the summer season — were up a solid 6.1 percent, which pushed the total increase for 2018 to 5.4 percent.
Some of the increase can be attributed to higher fuel prices, but the state does not provide counties with a breakdown as to what sales sectors brought in sales tax.
That rise marks an increase of more than $2 million over the same period of 2017, and gives county supervisors a significant boost as they finalize the county budget for 2019. Stony Creek Supervisor Frank Thomas, the county’s budget officer, said the sales tax increase will help, but is tough to predict. The 2018 budget called for a 0.5 percent sales tax increase for this year.
He said the county budget team will meet next week to go over numbers, and a small increase was anticipated.
“We are going to stay under the tax cap,” Thomas said.