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Tourism tax gets thumbs up from voters

FARMINGTON — While only less than 6 percent of the voting public turned out to cast a ballot, the majority ruled Tuesday that Farmington will have a seven-year “transient tax,” or motel tax, to fund economic activity and tourism promotion for the community.

A total of 411 voters, or 5.5 percent of the registered 7,540 voters in the city, turned out Tuesday for a special election to consider a proposed transient tax on overnight room rentals. The measure won with 223 “yes” votes, or 54.52 percent, to 186 “no” votes, or 45.48 percent.

“I want to thank everyone who supported this,” Mayor Stuart “Mit” Landrum said after the final of the four precincts had been tallied. “We will get organized and do this properly. The spending will go on promoting and marketing the community, not building buildings. That’s what we promised.”

The tax is a 5 percent — or five cents on the dollar — tax on profits made from rental of overnight rooms … hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfast. The tax will only apply to room rentals within the city limits of Farmington, and will be imposed starting January 1, 2010. The first revenue will be transferred to the city in the spring of that year.

Based on current occupancy rates, as reported by managers and owners of local hotels and motels, the tax could potentially generate up to $250,000 or more per year. The ballot issue had a seven-year sunset, meaning it will expire in seven years unless the voters decide prior to that time to continue the tax into the future beyond 2017.

City Administrator Greg Beavers was at the county courthouse along with Landrum and others when the final vote totals came in from the four precincts shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday.

“The challenge is to take this asset and turn it into economic activity,” Beavers said. State statutes require the city form a “tourism and visitors bureau” to handle the spending of the tax revenue. The council will take up formation of that bureau and the appointment of members within the next three months.

Landrum said the tourism bureau will likely look early on at securing a marketing organization to get the most impact from the available dollars. It’s likely much of the money will be spent to draw tourists from St. Louis and its surrounding communities — hundreds of thousands of people who live within a few short hours of Farmington but may not know what the city and surrounding region has to offer.

While the outcome sounds positive for the community, not everyone was on board with the idea. The transient tax won in three precincts, but lost by a narrow margin in Ward 1 and in absentee voting.

Many hotel owners and operators had indicated they saw the benefits of the tax potentially drawing in many more visitors. But at least one owner sent word that he was opposed to the tax, adding that he was already spending thousands on tourism each year.

Landrum first presented the idea of a hotel tax during his campaign for the city’s highest elected position earlier this year. He spoke of the tax from time to time while campaigning, and raised the issue again with the council shortly after his overwhelming victory in early April.

But in the end, the mayor and other city officials decided to maintain a low profile on the proposed tax and let the people decide without any flashy advertising campaign or countless stumping speeches to civic groups and other gatherings.

So while only 5.5 percent of the voters decided to be heard Tuesday, the majority ruled and Landrum hopes that group’s willingness to take a chance on future growth of the community — and subsequently the surrounding region — is echoed for several years to come.

Doug Smith is a reporter for the Daily Journal. You can reach him at 573-756-8927, or at dsmith@dailyjournalonline.com.

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