Tourist Commission seeks DA’s assistance to settle tax situation amicably

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By Carolyn Roy, carolyn@natchitochestimes.com

The Natchitoches Parish Tourist Commission has asked District Attorney Billy Joe Harrington for assistance in its effort to get information about a “value added” tax not paid by the Chateau St. Denis Hotel and other information from the Natchitoches Tax Commission. On Jan. 4, the tourist commission sent a Request for Public Records letter to Jerry McWherter, Natchitoches Parish tax administrator. The letter was received by the Natchitoches Tax Commission office Monday, Jan. 7 with a return receipt.

Seamless Gutters

On Wednesday, Jan 9, Attorney Richard Barham notified Tourist Commission Executive Director Arlene Gould that he was retained by Natchitoches Parish Tax Administrator, Jerry McWherter to assist in responding to the request for information.  As of Jan. 15, no information as requested was received.   Gould said she requested such information as how much money was collected on the value added package, the amount of TIF tax collected for the City, the number of rooms that were rented in hotels, Air B&Bs and campgrounds and other information that would help her gauge how much the tourist commission would receive. The controversy has been whether the Chateau St. Denis Hotel should pay a 3 percent occupancy tax on the mandatory value added package of $9.99 charged by the hotel. The 3 percent was not paid from the time the hotel opened in December of 2016 until July when the hotel began paying the tax.

There is no way to gauge how much tax the hotel did not pay because the owner will not disclose the occupancy rate since the hotel opened. Another question is why McWherter did not collect the occupancy tax for the period in question. Gould said the matter was time consuming and the tourist commission decided at its December meeting to seek assistance from the district attorney.

The tourist commission had considered requesting an audit by Louisiana Legislative Auditor but decided contacting the district attorney instead in an effort to settle the matter amicably. In other business at the January meeting, Gould reported that the December Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax collections were $42,357 with an administrative fee of $1,270 and a net collection of $41,086.

This is $5,223 more than 2017 and $4,537 less than projected amount of $45,623.

Year-to date the occupancy tax collections reflect $417,544, less administrative fee of $12,526, for a net $405,017.  This is $44,975 (12.5 percent) over 2017 and $15,017(3.8 percent) over the amended budget projection of $390,000.

The original budgeted amount of occupancy tax was $375,000. The profit and loss statement reflects December income at $42,311 and expenses of $28,712 for a net income of $13,598.  Year-to-date, the total income is $588,621 and expenses of $442,775 for a net income of $145,845 and $2,000 for other income for a total net income of $147,845.   This large net income is due to the Visitor Enterprise Funds received from the State in October. Normally it would be paid out quarterly through June 30, 2019. However, Natchitoches CVB received the lump sum.  Gould has been nominated to serve on the Board for Louisiana Travel Association for another term and to also serve as the 2019 Secretary of the Louisiana Association of Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

The slate of officers will be presented to the general membership at the annual meeting in Alexandria Jan. 24.  Kelli West, director of marketing and communications, will attend the meeting with board members Lauryn Sharplin, Jan Frederick and travel counselors Anne Cummins and Heather Lockwood. Gould will work the LACVB/LOT booth at the New York Times Travel Show Jan. 24-27 and has a luncheon scheduled with New York tour operators Jan. 28 before traveling back to Louisiana Jan 29.

The Natchitoches CVB had a full-page print ad in the 2019 Southwest edition (Texas market) of Horizon Travel & Lifestyle Magazine that was inserted in the Wall Street Journal Jan. 10 (226,000 readers, 100,000 subscribers).   With the purchase of the print ad, added value provided 120-:05 second commercial spots that ran on the ABC Good Morning America screen in Times Square, N.Y.(10 million impressions) with the Natchitoches-Celebrate, Discover, Explore message along with the Louisiana Feed Your Soul logo and invitation to visit the booth at the New York Times Travel Show. In addition, 21,240-:05 second spots ran on 10 screens in the Toronto, Canada Path (underground subway system) from Jan. 1-Feb. 28. A travel writer who visited Natchitoches in December and posted a blog on Natchitoches contacted the CVB to say that she pitched a “Steel Magnolias” anniversary story to Houston Chronicle and they picked it up so she made a return visit this week to do the story.

The CVB office was also contacted by Southern Living magazine that they will be sending someone in a couple of weeks to shoot for a possible story.  More year-end marketing results will be shared at the February meeting.