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Tourist Commission votes to levy 4 % occupancy tax

(Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correctly identify Commissioner Tracy Smith. L’OBSERVATEUR regrets the error.)

LAPLACE — The River Parishes Tourist Commission recently approved an ordinance levying a four percent occupancy tax in the tri-parish region.

For years, the River Parishes Tourist Commission has levied a two percent occupancy tax on hotels/motels, RV parks, short-term rentals, bed and breakfast accommodations and other facilities offering overnight stays. These taxes comprise a majority of RPTC funding and are used to promote attractions in the region through tradeshows and multimedia.

During the 2019 state legislative session, RPTC was given the authority to increase occupancy tax from two percent to four percent, following in the footsteps of other tourism agencies in neighboring parishes. However, the increase from two to four percent did not go into effect until Commissioners voted to approve it during a Zoom meeting on Thursday, Aug. 20.

The occupancy tax increase comes roughly five months after the COVID-19 pandemic severely restricted tourism in Louisiana and throughout the country, creating an imminent need for additional revenue.

Last year in the fiscal budget, Commissioners moved $75,000 from the reserve funding, according to RPTC Executive Director Buddy Boe. In this year’s fiscal budget, Commissioners authorized an additional $300,000 to be moved from the reserves.

“If we don’t impose this tax, without any real change in tourism, we’re looking at having about $75,000 left in the reserves if we use all of the money you all appropriated to support the budget. We could still get hurricanes. We could still have flooding events. That’s what we all thought the reserves were going to be for,” Boe said.

“Imposing it now simply puts us back to where we were pre-corona. As we move forward and the tourism industry comes back, which we know it will, the commission would have more revenue to do more projects, hire additional sales staff to work with our partners, build more tour packages and attract more business to the region.”

Given the current hotel occupancy statistics, occupancy tax revenue is expected to total approximately $253,000, according to Boe. This could change as the tourism outlook improves. By 2022 or 2023, Boe expects occupancy tax collections to total approximately $450,000.

The increase also puts the RPTC in line with occupancy collections in other areas of the state.

According to a chart presented at the meeting, 2019 occupancy taxes were levied at four percent in Ascension Parish, Jefferson Parish, Lafourche Parish and Tangipahoa Parish, all of which border the River Parishes.

Commissioner Tracy Smith said he doesn’t feel the increase will deter guests from lodging in the River Parishes.

“When I go on vacation and stay in a hotel, I don’t ask, ‘what’s the tax rate?’” Smith said. “I ask, ‘Is the hotel close to what I want to visit?’ I think increasing from two to four percent, even just matching the surrounding areas, is not going to impact the person coming to this region.”

Smith added that the residents of the River Parishes would not be strongly impacted by this increase since they are not the population booking local hotel rooms.

“That’s why I feel this tax is fair. It’s not above any of the parishes surrounding us. It’s basically matching them. I support the increase of this tax,” he said.

There will be no change in the amount of revenue collected by local School Boards, according to Boe. The School Districts have agreed to collect four percent of the occupancy tax revenues rather than eight percent, as was done before. Since the tax has doubled, the four percent collection is equivalent to the original eight percent collection.

The ordinance passed with only one vote in opposition from Chairman Garrett Monti. Elizabeth Joseph stipulated that she doesn’t support levying a tax increase during a pandemic.

This ordinance was advertised in L’OBSERVATEUR, the River Parishes Tourist Commission’s Official Journal of Record, on July 25, July 29, August 12 and August 19.

Boe said the ordinance was also listed on the RPTC meeting agendas for the June 18, July 23, July 30 and August 20 meeting dates. The state delegation was notified on August 10.