Proposal would limit uses of hotel tax revenue by cities, towns
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent January 22, 2013 5:48PM
Speros Batistatos, president of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, announced major changes Thursday to the South Shore Air Show. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:29AM
A bill that would change the way hotel taxes are distributed to local communities has made its way to the Indiana Legislature.
The bill, authored by State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Vaparaiso, and supported by state representatives Hal Slager, R-Schererville: Mara Candelaria-Reardon, D-Hammond: and Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, was assigned to the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.
Speros Batistatos, executive director of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said Senate Bill 1365 would ensure funds collected from taxes on the tourism industry are used for projects that draw visitors to the region.
“It will be taking (hotel tax) money that by and large is abused by the cities and towns and turning into a matching grant,” Batistatos said.
While some cities use the funds to help pay for events that draw people from outside of their communities and Lake County to the region, others use it for parade candy and street paving, expenditures he said skirt the intent of the law creating the tax.
Batistatos long has been a proponent of legislation that would change the current disbursement method that spreads the money to all Lake County communities based on population. He said lawmakers should stop what he describes as abuses of the program by those who use the dollars for things other than encouraging tourism.
Money would go to a matching grant fund where communities could apply for the dollars for projects that support tourism and receive revenues that match the funds they are willing to put up. A commission would be established to award the funds.
Batistatos said all of the funds collected from hotel taxes in Lake County would continue to be redistributed each year to the communities and would not be controlled by the SSCVA.
The SSCVA plans to add to the pool anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 from its funds after the first year to increase the number of projects that can receive revenues, he said.
There are a number of events and activities in the region that draw visitors, including festivals such as the Gary Air Show, Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Festival of the Lakes in Hammond and the nighttime St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Crown Point that bring an influx of people to the region.
“It has got to be about bringing people here,” Batistatos said.