WHEELING - Ohio County took in about $350,000 in hotel-motel tax money last fiscal year, with half of that money going to the Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The money is generated via a 6 percent tax, known as the bed tax, levied on hotel and motel customers' bills when they stay in facilities in Ohio County. The county now is home to five different hotels in and around The Highlands: Hampton Inn, Microtel Inn, Comfort Inn, Econo Lodge and Holiday Inn Express.
While half must be allocated to the CVB, per state law, the remainder is given to various groups and agencies for events and projects. Commissioner Tim McCormick said the commission annually receives requests for varying amounts, and those requests are considered during monthly commission meetings.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Patrons of Ohio County hotels, such as this Holiday Inn Express near The Highlands, must pay a 6 percent bed tax.
"With ours, 50 percent goes to the convention and visitors bureau. By code we can take the other money and disburse it into nine categories that qualify," McCormick said.
Examples of qualifying categories include recreation, facilities, tourism, historic sites and the arts.
"The majority of it goes to recreation and tourism, and bricks and mortar kinds of things," McCormick said.
The commission recently approved a $10,000 funding request from American Legion Baseball to make improvements to a ball field at the J.B. Chambers Youth Sports Complex. Other past funding requests include: $2,000 to the Wheeling Heritage Port Sternwheel Festival; $500 to the Wheeling Hibernian Irish Road Bowling Ohio Valley Championship; $1,200 to the YMCA Summer Camp; and $3,000 to the Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta. The money also funds the Ohio County Country Fair each fall.
"Anything that brings in outside tourism into the county is eligible," McCormick said.
If there is a question as to whether a request is eligible, the county solicitor checks the state code.
"A lot of people think it's local taxpayers' money. They think it's taken from the general fund. That's not where it's coming from. It's outside money coming in. It's not really taxpayers' dollars. Unless they are staying in a hotel, it's not taxpayers' money," McCormick said. "It's basically outsiders' money. It's a win-win for a lot of organizations."
McCormick noted Ohio County only receives bed tax money that is collected at Ohio County hotels - not those located in other municipalities such as Wheeling.
Frank O'Brien, Wheeling-Ohio County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director, said the CVB receives about $850,000 total from the city of Wheeling and Ohio County annually.
"We market Ohio County as a destination to get visitors to come from outside a 50-mile radius," O'Brien said, adding the CVB's primary mission is to market Ohio County and the city of Wheeling.
O'Brien said the CVB uses the money to pay for the debt service n the Capitol Theatre, which it owns. Additionally, funds are used for marketing fairs and festivals. O'Brien said the CVB focuses its marketing efforts on getting people to spend the night in a hotel.
"We want people to stay and play in Wheeling," he said.
City of Wheeling Finance Director Michael Klug said the city is expected to take in about $1.5 million in hotel-motel tax money this year. Much like Ohio County, half is given to the CVB. He said about $236,000 is given to WesBanco Arena for general maintenance and operations and the remaining money is used for the city's recreation department, which has swimming pools and ball fields to maintain.