Costly ot­ter ques­tion

De­bate over ho­tel tax hinges on how best to keep Aquatar­ium afloat

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - FRONT PAGE - RON­ALD ZAJAC

Us­ing half of Brockville’s ho­tel tax to help the Aquatar­ium will en­sure such fi­nan­cial sup­port does not in­crease prop­erty taxes, Mayor David Hen­der­son said Thurs­day.

And while the sug­ges­tion is not sit­ting well with the city ’s tourism pro­mo­tion com­mu­nity, city hall is mak­ing it be­cause coun­cil un­der­stands the sit­u­a­tion, he added.

“It’s pretty well un­der­stood that the Aquatar­ium has to be sup­ported, in the near term, the short term, the next cou­ple of years,” said the out­go­ing mayor, two days af­ter the lat­est coun­cil de­bate on the mu­nic­i­pal ac­com­mo­da­tion tax (MAT).

“A dol­lar that comes off that MAT is a dol­lar that doesn’t come off the tax base,” added Hen­der­son. Brockville tourism man­ager Kather­ine Hobbs, who ar­gued against the plan on Tues­day, said it’s not about want­ing to take money away from the Aquatar­ium.

“We just want to be able to ap­pro­pri­ately mar­ket Brockville,” she added.

City of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that in 2019, the first full year of the MAT, rev­enues will amount to $425,000.

City staff re­cently came up with an al­lo­ca­tion for­mula that calls for as much as half the MAT pro­ceeds, up to a max­i­mum of $200,000, to go to the Aquatar­ium.

The other half would be split among a va­ri­ety of tourism-re­lated pri­or­i­ties, most of which would be de­cided by the city’s tourism ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee.

City of­fi­cials also rec­om­mend that $50,000 of this year’s MAT re­ceipts, be­fore the for­mula is ap­plied, goes to the Aquatar­ium, as au­tho­rized by a coun­cil res­o­lu­tion July 24.

Tourism of­fi­cials on Tues­day urged coun­cil’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment and plan­ning com­mit­tee to re­vise the for­mula so that they get more money for tourism pro­mo­tion, ar­gu­ing this is nec­es­sary to help Brockville com­pete with nearby tourism des­ti­na­tions such as Gananoque and Kingston.

But Hen­der­son said the lat­est for­mula re­flects a poll of city coun­cil, which rec­og­nizes the Aquatar­ium still needs help.

“That’s just to get a bet­ter start­ing point so that we could bet­ter fo­cus the dis­cus­sion,” added Hen­der­son.

Coun­cil­lors are aware that the Aquatar­ium cur­rently needs about $400,000 a year from the city, he said.

And if the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar tourism at­trac­tion fails, he added, the cost to lo­cal tax­pay­ers will be far greater.

“We’re cer­tainly not against the Aquatar­ium and we want the Aquatar­ium to do well,” said Hobbs.

She is en­cour­aged by a sug­ges­tion from Mayor-elect Ja­son Baker, that the MAT tax money be used to sup­port the Aquatar­ium on a tran­si­tional ba­sis while the fa­cil­ity’s man­age­ment finds other sources of rev­enue.

“I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate that he’s been re­ally open and will­ing to talk to us,” added Hobbs.

Baker and the new coun­cil, which will be sworn in Dec. 3, are likely to be in place when a fi­nal al­lo­ca­tion plan is de­cided.

City hall is ask­ing stake­hold­ers to re­spond in writ­ing to the pro­posed al­lo­ca­tion for­mula by Novem­ber 16.

Af­ter that, a “MAT im­ple­men­ta­tion work­ing group” would be formed, which would con­sult with city of­fi­cials by Novem­ber 23.

The plan­ning com­mit­tee would then get a re­port back from staff early next month, “with the fi­nal MAT al­lo­ca­tion af­ter con­sid­er­ing writ­ten re­sponses and rec­om­men­da­tion on the im­ple­men­ta­tion.” Rza­jac@post­media.com

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