Hotel operators are misinformed

Published 9:00pm Monday, January 21, 2013

It was difficult to sit in the Administrative Committee meeting for the Selma City Council and listen to hotel owners and managers discuss their opinions about the lodging fee.

In countless columns, myself and other reporters at the Times-Journal, have discussed how the YMCA is an integral part of the community. I read so many letters to the editor in the newsroom about what the YMCA of Selma has done for people, specifically older women talking about how the water aerobics classes have helped their joints and men speak of how the programming put them on a straighter path to success as a child.

The question the city council members will ask themselves before voting Tuesday is not a question of whether or not the YMCA is needed in our community, but whether or not allowing an occupancy fee to be increased on hotel rooms would be fair to all Selma residents.

Ask these hotel owners about how they feel about this fee and the song will sound something like they are Frodo and Selma Mayor George Evans (Gandalf) has just handed them a ring that they must destroy — they have been handed this great, deep and dark burden they have to bear.

One owner said he is actually a member of the YMCA, and wants to do his part to help. He said for him, his opposition to the occupancy fee is just based on the fairness of the matter — hotel owners shouldn’t be the only ones who have to bear the burden, but all of the other businesses in Selma should participate in the fee.

If the fee were to take away from his profit and income, I would have to agree with him — but that is certainly not the case. I also understand the argument that they, all 11 hotels, were chosen as a specific business to administer this fee to help the YMCA.

Consider International Paper. Let’s say a representative or an engineering consultant ventures from headquarters to the Riverdale Mill. This consultant would stay overnight on a paid business trip.

This means when the consultant checks out and uses his company credit card, they would have paid the $2 per night charge, not the hotel.

So the argument that is made that all the businesses should face some kind of burden, we ask why when the burden of this fee is not on the hotels but on those visiting Selma, doing business in Selma or passing through Selma.

And, for it to be called a burden is unfair as well. In return for participating, these hotel owners, operators and their employees will be receiving free memberships to the YMCA and their guests will be given passes to the state-of-the-art facility as well.

Although the arguments in this case have become muddled, the right decision is very clear.

  • popdukes12

    The free membership thing is one thing that I have not seen discussed in the STJ. The travel industry is the only industry that has a separate tax (lodging tax) in Selma and therefore the only one that can be singled out. As I have stated in an earlier comment, if the needs of the community (in terms of recreation) have changed over the years, maybe it is time to look at the cost vs. benefit of the current recreation department. The position you are proclaiming is the typical, liberal, OPM (other people’s money) position. I take it that you have never ran a business or have any knowledge of the phrase “what the market will bare”. If the market could stand an extra $2.00/ night, the extra $250,000 ($188,000 for the “Y” + $62,000 for the Brown”Y”) would mean $23,000 for each hotel manager. this would allow them to employ one, if not two additional full time employees. But if it is the intention (which it appears to be) to “sell” the idea that this money could be better spent on fitness and yoga instructors, you have “barrels of ink and reams of paper” to push that position. The “Y” was in this position a couple of years ago (when Mr. Porter took control), and I certainly hope that it was not the intention of their board to hire Mr. Porter knowing that his good name and character would help pull them out of their “sticky” situation. But, I have my suspicions. Pops

    • Dennis Palmer

      The free membership was indeed covered in prior reporting. And this won’t “cost” the hotel owners a cent. Those renting the rooms will pay the fee, which the hotel owners will then pass along to the city when they pay their normal lodging taxes. It’s a pass-through proposition that will almost totally be funded by people who do not live in Selma. In exchange, the hotel owners and their employees receive free memberships; hotel patrons receive a free pass to the Y while they’re in town, which is good since many local hotels do not have fitness centers, and the Y receives funding that it can use to retire debt and build out community outreach programs that can hopefully make a positive impact on those who live here. Certainly it will be up to future city councils to determine whether the fee will live on after the debt is retired or to allocate it for a project or program that is beneficial to the community. As for your assertions about Bill Porter, they are baseless and, as usual, conspiratorial. If you actually lived here, you’d know better.

      • popdukes12

        Well, let’s see. As you know, I’m not casting any aspersions on Bill as you would be hard pressed to find a finer individuals in the city. The economic downturn started in 2008, and Bill was hired in late 2010 or early 2011. Whatever financial difficulties the “Y” had were well under way by then. For Bill to move back to Selma (from Auburn) had to be a major decision for him and his family. There is one thing about Selma that you have probably found out by now, and that is that if you weren’t born there, you’ll always be an outsider as far as locals are concerned. Having said that, you have no way of knowing what the “Y” board’s motives were (unless you are on the board). I still have a child there, have property there, and make it back “home” several times a year. As far as the lodging “fee” is concerned, please show me a “tax” (you called this a free as it is not expressed as a percentage of the amount spent) that is not a “pass-through” for the business owner and to the consumer. The old Holiday-Inn used to be the only motel in town that required you to have an out of town driver’s license in order to get a room. Did anyone ask a hotel/motel manager what percentage of their guests were from out of town? Probably not as that question wouldn’t promote the narrative of all the cost being incurred by “out of towners”. Well, The city has done the bond issue thing ($12 million), and they borrowed the money for the pension plan ($10.5 million). They’ve unloaded the garbage collection service. They’ve added $2.00 to the lodging, and they are proposing yet another increase (1/2 cent) sales tax. All of this can’t be helping the business climate in Selma. Business licensing will probably be next. You got the fee you were promoting, and let’s just see what will be next. Just my opinion (if that is still acceptable). pops

      • Dennis Palmer

        Once again you’re making assumptions you know nothing about. I’ve communicated closely with the Y board [I am not a member] and have had a clear understanding of what the Y’s situation is, has been, for several years now. This newspaper actually pledged, and then fully paid, $50,000 toward the construction of that facility because it was the right thing to do for the service it provides this community. It does need to do more outreach, and I’m confident it will, once the debt is retired. But simply stated, had everyone who made pledges fulfilled them, this scenario would not be playing out as it has. As to your question regarding what percentage of hotel guests are from out of town – isn’t that what the vast majority of hotels serve, out of town guests? Maybe that is too common sense a concept for someone to grasp. We’ve consistently stated this fee [tax] would be primarily paid by those who do not live in Selma. Yes, some who stay in hotels do actually have residence here, but need a temporary “home” for a few days. As an example, I know one family that was having major work done on their house and had to stay a few days in a local hotel.

      • popdukes12

        The point was that either the question was never asked, or it wasn’t relayed to the public. Wouldn’t a “fair and balanced” individual consider that “fact” as being “relative” to the conversation. Now that sounds like “assumptions” were made on your part also. When something is being “sold” to the public to the tune of $160,000 to $200,000 a year, 10% or 15% can make a considerable difference. I really think it was condescending to the public to not at least offer all of the pertinent facts that are readily available. It is a rare occasion where see opinions stated as a “fact” in news articles in the STJ and to that I must commend Tim on realizing the difference. I do appreciate that support of these fees were limited to the “opinion” section of the paper. I really have a problem when I see opinions bleed into news articles. And, by the way, when I come to Selma I never use a motel. Being “from Selma” it only takes a phone call (just one) to find a number of places to stay free as long as I need to. pops

      • Dennis Palmer

        I’m glad you have a place to stay when you are “home.” To the question of how many people who stay in hotels are from out of town, I put that in the same category of confirming to readers that the water that runs down the Alabama River is wet. And so you understand, since you don’t live here full time, even though it was mentioned numerous times in reporting and in the numerous public meetings that were held that this would not impact locals, not one hotel owner made a case or voiced a concern that those who would pay the fee are local. Maybe it was too obvious for them, too.

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