Commissioners Approve Raising Hotel/Motel Tax Resolution

Fannin County Chamber, News
Hotel.Motel Tax

BLUE RIDGE, GA – The process to move the hotel/motel tax from five percent to six percent has begun after commissioners unanimously approved the resolution.

Now, the resolution must go before the Georgia legislature for approval. Once the tax goes above five percent, the state must approve it. Due to this process, the increase won’t take effect until at least 2020.

However, after an extensive discussion, the commissioners and Chamber of Commerce representatives decided Jan. 2021 would result in an easier transition for local government and hotel/motel owners.

Currently, the hotel/motel tax’s split 50/50 between the chamber and Fannin County government. The one percent increase should give each $200,000 in extra funding. The chamber intends to spend the money on marketing and tourism development.

The increase mainly affects tourists who visit the county throughout the year.

“I talk to several cabin rental property people and the chamber board, and there wasn’t anybody who thought it would damage business at all,” stated Chamber President Jan Hackett.

The chamber also unanimously approved a decision to raise the tax rate and presented a letter attesting to that fact.
Commissioners agreed to spend the funds on public safety efforts since the increased tourism puts a strain on law enforcement, EMS, and EMA services.

“This would be a good way to elevate that some of that stress because even though folks, if they’re not from here, when they call 911, we don’t ask them if they’re a resident or not,” said Chairman Stan Helton, “If you need help, you’re going to get help.”

In 4:15 workshop, the commissioners worked out the hotel/motel tax increase resolution.

The increase in hotel/motel taxes can only begin on the first of a quarter, which led to the decision to move the start date to Jan. 2021. Once the resolution passes through the Georgia House and Senate, two public hearings and then adoption of the new rate would have to occur.

“I noted on the chart that Helen and White County are charging eight percent of hotel excise tax and we often charge five,” stated Hackett.

This entire process could take 12 to 15 weeks, which would result in an Oct. 2020 start date – right in the middle of the holiday season. Most book Thanksgiving and Christmas trips a year in advance. Hotels, motels, and Airbnb’s take hotel/motel tax at the time of booking. However, the county collects the tax at the time of the stay.

“The growth isn’t just to try and squeeze more out of people. When one house is being rented out, usually three or four people might live in it. Sometimes these houses, there are six or eight people coming, so when you double the number of people, the same tax is being paid, stated Post One Earl Johnson, “I don’t want anyone to believe that we’re just trying to squeeze an extra percentage out and it’s going to just disappear. We all feel like it should go to public safety.”

By raising the tax during the busy season, it could create unnecessary hardship on business owners and tourists. As a result, the start date has moved to Jan. 2021, one of the slowest months of the year.

For now, the county has to wait until the Georgia legislature reconvenes to present the hotel/motel tax resolution for approval.

Feature image is courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce website.

Fannin County Water Authority rate increase

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Discussions on whether the Fannin County Water Authority (FCWA) would see a price hike has been a hot topic this year, and the Blue Ridge City Council solidified that this rate increase would take place at their Nov. 13 meeting.

Currently the FCWA purchases water for its customers from the City of Blue Ridge at a wholesale rate. This rate had been debated early this year as being under normal wholesale prices.

Rebecca Harkins, Utilities Director for the City of Blue Ridge and Alicia Stewart, the city’s Finance Director, presented to the Blue Ridge City Council a breakdown of why a wholesale rate increase is necessary.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Blue Ridge City Council, Mayor, Council Member, Donna Whitener, Harold Herondon, Kenneth Gaddis, Nathan Fitz, Rhonda Haight, Robbie Cornelius, Utilities Director, Finance Director, Rebecca Harkins, Alicia Stewart, Fannin County Water Authority, Rural Assistance Community Project, Phillip Reid, Water Rate, Increase, Wholesale

Rebecca Harkins and Alicia Stewart address city council on their findings regarding the wholesale water rate.

“Earlier in the year Alicia and I have gotten to together and calculated a wholesale water rate,” Harkins said of the internal work done by the city. “We based it on our expenditures from the water system versus what our normal everyday customer paid.”

Harkins pointed out that the expenditures and data collected was based on the previous year of 2017.

Currently FCWA purchases water at a wholesale rate of $3.25 per 1,000 gallons. This rate is approximately 25.65 percent of what a consumer directly supplied by the city pays. The goal of the City of Blue Ridge is to bring the wholesale rate up to 50 percent in yearly increments.

The proposed rate increase would put wholesale prices at $4.25 per 1,000 gallons and bring the percentage closer to 33 percent.

Harkins and Stewart also had a third party rate study conducted by Phillip Reid, Georgia State Manager for the Rural Assistance Community Project. This third party review was conducted at no cost to the city.

According to Harkins, Reid looks at the percentage of water used versus the percentage of revenue and through his findings had also recommended the rate be set at $4.25 per 1,000 gallons with an increase to $5.00 per 1,000 gallons the following year.

“The only difference I came up with is that in the second year of rate increase it would look more like $5.25 if you factor in inflation,” Harkins stated of her findings.

Council member Rhonda Haight questioned the current total amount of debt the City of Blue Ridge faces in regards to its water system. Stewart replied approximately $14 million.

This debt according to Haight must be taken into consideration when negotiating rates. Haight further commented that she felt the city should not be locked into a set price with the FCWA and should be able to evaluate rates if more debt is obtained.

Mayor Donna Whitener suggested the city holding a workshop where Reid could go over all findings and explain to the public the cost of running a water system.

While contracts are still being worked through between the City of Blue Ridge and the Fannin County Water Authority, the city council did vote to raise the wholesale water rate to $4.25 per 1,000 gallons effective Dec. 2018.


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