Hotel tax fight continues over deadline

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
November 11, 2012 01:00 AM

Opponents of a hotel room tax for the Sunshine Coast are pressing the provincial government to recognize Oct. 31 as the cut-off date for letters in support of the tax.

In a letter sent Nov. 2 to Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Pat Bell, petition organizer Colin MacLean also asked for a final tally of letters endorsing the tax and confirmation that any form letters of support submitted "do not meet legislation."

The final request is for Bell to declare that the municipal and regional district tax (MRDT) initiative on the Sunshine Coast "has failed."

Earlier this fall, 26 of the affected 46 accommodation operators signed a petition opposing the two per cent room tax proposed by Sunshine Coast Tourism (SCT).

The tax was expected to generate about $250,000 per year, 75 per cent for regional marketing and 25 per cent for local tourism-enhancement projects.

With a majority coming out against the MRDT, operators were given the option of endorsing the tax by sending a letter of support to their regional district office, or opposing it by doing nothing.

Contacted Tuesday, SCT president Celia Robben said the only operators who have declared Oct. 31 as a formal deadline are MacLean and Josaphine Scheifele, co-owner of Desolation Resort in Lund, who started the petition.

"We were very careful not to make a particular deadline because we wanted to keep it open so that accommodation owners could hold conversations among themselves and decide for themselves what's best for their business," Robben said.

Robben said operators have sent letters of support to both the Sunshine Coast and Powell River regional districts, with "very balanced representation at both offices."

While she did not provide a total, she said the level of support is moving toward the 50 per cent mark.

"I also know that some people who signed the petition have signed letters of support after having those conversations," Robben said.

Robben noted that fall is the time when many operators go on vacation because the tourist numbers are down.

"And that's been a factor in allowing the conversations to happen," she said. "Multiple owners are out of the country right now."

As for MacLean's objection to form letters endorsing the tax, Robben said the province asked SCT to follow a process modelled after the City of Langley.

"We followed the process the Ministry asked us to follow," she said.

One criticism that has come out of the Powell River area, she added, is that accommodation providers in Comox and Campbell River are not charging the MRDT.

"Those regions have not had it in place, but it's my understanding that both regions are going through their approval steps to apply," she said. "They're one of only two major centres on the island that don't have a tax and they're going through their process now."

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