Pasco debates hotel room tax assessment

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 30, 2013 

Visitors to the Tri-Cities could soon pay an extra 50 cents per night for their hotel rooms.

The Pasco City Council on Monday discussed a proposal by the Tri-City Regional Hotel-Motel Commission to raise its nightly tourism promotion assessment -- a self-imposed tax -- to $2 from $1.50.

The commission was formed in 2004 to create a tourism promotion area. The assessment helps market the Tri-Cities as a preferred destination for conventions, sports tournaments and other events, as well as leisure travel, commission board members told City Manager Gary Crutchfield in a letter.

The commission, comprised of representatives of area hotels, has provided grants and financial support to 152 events since the assessment was put in place, which has led to $130 million in spending from visitors, the commission members said.

The additional revenue from the tax increase would go toward adding two marketing managers. One would recruit for sports events. The other would promote area wineries and the proposed Hanford National Historical Park, the commission members said. The extra fees would also allow more advertising.

The council could vote on the proposal next week. It will also need approval from the city councils in Kennewick and Richland.

The rate of $1.50 has been in place since 2004, according to the city council's agenda packet.

The assessment is in addition to the 4-percent hotel-motel tax in the Tri-Cities, Crutchfield said.

In other business Monday, Police Chief Bob Metzger told the council that his department's new street crimes unit has made 326 arrests, many of them gang-related, since it was introduced in January.

That has helped lead to a 2-percent drop in the city's crime rate, Metzger said. The city has seen its number of crimes drop from 160 per 1,000 residents in 1989 to fewer than 30 per 1,000 residents last year.

"There's not a place in town I would suggest you not go to," Metzger said. "We really have a great community here."

The street crimes unit -- a sergeant and four officers -- is funded with the three-tenths of 1 percent public safety sales tax approved by Franklin county voters in 2011.

The council also discussed a plan to close the library at 1320 W. Hopkins St. for renovations between Nov. 28 and Jan. 2. The city is expected to pay $13,700 out of its general fund for a new sign outside the library, as well as exterior paint. The Mid-Columbia Library District is paying $100,000 to improve the library.

Councilman Tom Larsen said that an "unbiased" group needs to inspect the library's political books.

"It seems to me that there was more literature from one political party than another," he told other council members about a recent visit.

Councilman Mike Garrison dismissed the idea.

"I'm just concerned about a person's rights," Garrison said. "One party versus another party is putting more literature out, you're going to contrast pieces of literature? I think you're running into a bee's nest."

The new West Pasco Branch Library is expected to extend its hours during the closure.

Rick Terway, city administrative and community services director, told the council that changes could not be made to the planned fencing off of parks around James McGee, Virgie Robinson and Maya Angelou elementaries. Parts of the parks would be closed to the public during school hours if the plan is approved.

Several council members criticized closing the parks during the council's Aug. 12 workshop. The Pasco School District is pushing for the change in response to incidents like the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The schools need to have a large area with a fence around it to keep kids contained if there were an emergency, said Terway, who discussed the matter with school district, police and fire officials.

Council members grudgingly accepted the plan Monday.

"I was skeptical in the beginning, but I can live with this," Councilman Saul Martinez said.

The council also discussed restricting parking on both sides of Manzanita Lane for 150 feet north of A Street.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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