If state Sen. Barry Glassman has his way, he will not give Harford County or the City of Aberdeen the ability to put a new tax on hotel/motel rooms anytime soon – unwelcome news to a financially-strapped city that was looking to finally secure the much sought after lodging surcharge.
While the rest of the city toiled with transition teams, inner turmoil among a feuding police department and ethics violations, old and new, at least one group of Aberdeen residents actually tried to get something done the old fashioned way – traveling by bus to Annapolis last week in support of the latest push to implement a hotel/motel room tax in Harford County.
Harford County is the lone jurisdiction in Maryland without the authorization to impose and collect a minimal fee on each night’s stay in such lodging. Yet its best chance yet to get the proposition passed – with a new senator representing the county and a broader bill introduced – may still be scuttled by fears of imposing a new tax, even a pass-through tax, during such uncertain economic times.
Every other county in Maryland as well as Baltimore City has the authority granted by the state to place a minimal tax on a night’s stay in hotel and motel rooms. This usually just works out to a few extra bucks a night, which hits the traveling out-of-towner, usually passing through on I-95 or Route 40. As such, it’s considered a pass-through tax as it doesn’t directly hit Harford County residents or businesses.
But don’t tell that to the hotel industry, particularly the Hess family – owners of hotels and property at most of the I-95 interchanges in Harford County – who have been powerful opponents of the hotel tax and are credited largely with keeping it out of the area. Until now.
For the last few years the hotel tax bill has been defeated due mostly to opposition from Harford’s trio of state senators – Nancy Jacobs, Bob Hooper and Andy Harris – with the claim it will hurt tourism and local businesses, such as the Hess’.
But Harris is well on his way to becoming a U.S. Congressman and usually defers to Jacobs’ wishes and Bob Hooper died earlier this year and was replaced with former Del. Barry Glassman.
Proponents of the hotel tax saw the perfect opportunity to strike, but took an additional precaution, introducing the bill as statewide legislation rather than a local Harford bill. As a local bill the General Assembly would defer to the local courtesy and the senators would make short work of it in its annual defeat.
Here is this years attempt at a Harford hotel tax, via HB 178 – Municipal Corporations – Hotel Rental Tax:
Authorizing a municipal corporation to impose a tax on charges for sleeping accommodations paid to hotels in the municipal corporation, subject to specified limitations; authorizing a municipal corporation to set the tax rate, not to exceed 2%; authorizing a municipal corporation to provide for the administration and collection of the tax, to provide for additional exemptions from the tax, and to impose penalties for failure to collect, report, or pay the tax; etc.
Chuck Doty, a founding member of Aberdeen Communities Together (aka Aberdeen’s anti-annexation “Redshirts”), helped coordinate a bus trip to Annapolis last week so he, along with Mayor Mike Bennett, could testify in support of the hotel tax bill along with one of its sponsors, Harford Del. B. Daniel Riley.
“We had 24 on the bus, and while I was testifying, I mentioned that I was not alone and asked the bus riders and other assembled people from the Aberdeen delegation to stand, (about 30 folks got on their feet). My argument to the Ways and Means Committee was that Harford County is at or near the bottom of the median income for all Maryland Counties and Aberdeen the lowest within our County, and due to the current economy and ventures like Ripken Stadium, we need all the financial help we can muster,” Doty wrote in an email.
Why do Doty and the other Aberdeen residents care if hotel rooms cost a little extra a night? They see the room tax as just another way for Aberdeen to get some relief for its financial situation without the assistance of the county.
Del. Riley agrees and thinks the Aberdeen touch helped the cause last week.
“I got a nice warm feeling when Chuck [Doty] asked the Aberdeen group to stand and show their support for the bill. This made a great impact on the committee hearing the bill,” Riley wrote in an email interview.
“The committee was surprised that we did not have a hotel tax and asked why. I replied the relationship between some Harford County elected officials and the Hotel owners. The committee also felt we should’ve asked for 5% instead of 2%,” Riley added.
Riley also explained why making the legislation a state bill rather than a local Harford bill makes a difference.
“This bill is not a Harford Delegation bill. Because of the expressed opposition by Senators Jacobs, Harris and Hooper, we made this a statewide bill. We joined forces with the municipalities of Rockville and Gaithersburg. I never thought that I would get help on a bill from Montgomery County. Another reason this was not a Harford County delegation bill is because of the Hess influence. The Hess group did testify against the bill,” he wrote.
Both Doty and Riley are relatively confident about the future of the hotel tax bill:
“Anyway, I believe that this bill will pass the house, but getting it through the Senate is another thing…. especially in a ninety (90) day session. But I believe that the gears are now turning for approval of some sort of Motel/Hotel fees that will benefit the Aberdeen City taxpayers eventually,” Doty wrote.
“It looks like the bill will pass the House and I feel it has a 50-50 chance of getting out of the Senate,” Riley wrote.
In any case, it looks like the fate of this year’s hotel tax attempt may rest on the shoulders of newly crowned state Sen. Glassman.
“I can only hope Senator Glassman does the right thing and supports this bill,” Riley wrote.
So, without further procrastination, let’s hear what Glassman is going to do.
“[Maryland Municipal League] has tried a couple of times to go around local Counties, as you know local courtesy is granted on most bills but not always depending how the leadership feels about the bills and any statewide impact,” he answered in an email interview.
And most importantly.
“With the state and local economy going in the tank, I think we should not be increasing any more taxes or adding cost to small business.
Glassman, who has been chairman of Harford County’s delegation through the years when the hotel tax push has been stymied by Harford’s senators, now appears unwilling to support the authorization of a new tax because of the tough economic times.
To Aberdeen, at least, such a move ensures the economic times won’t be getting any better any time soon.