NORMAN — Residents will go to the polls April 2 to vote on raising the hotel/motel room tax.
City council members Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution calling for the election, asking voters to approve increasing the tax from 4 to 5 percent tax on overnight stays in the city's 2,831 hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast rooms.
“Any increase is an improvement over our current budget,” said Stephen Koranda, executive director of the city's convention and tourism bureau.
Koranda said Norman visitors and tourism center is “glaringly underfunded,” ranking 13th of 18 among Big 12 cities.
The city retains 3 percent of the money as reimbursement for administering the tax. The remaining 97 percent is divided among the convention and visitors bureau, which gets 50 percent; the arts, which get 25 percent; and parks, which get 25 percent. The division would remain the same, if the measure is approved.
The tax, which originated in 1980, generated $1,133,930 in fiscal year 2012.
Councilman Roger Gallagher said he favored raising the rate by 1.5 cents and considered the 1 cent increase a compromise with those who preferred keeping the rate lower. Most council members said they preferred the rate to remain lower than Oklahoma City's 5.5 percent tax rate because it would give Norman a competitive edge in attracting conventions and other large group stays in the metro area.
Gallagher said he favors the tax mainly because it would help the parks department.
“We have parks needing maintenance on a daily basis. Hope this helps in that area,” he said.
Councilman Dave Spaulding said he was not entirely sure the tax hike was necessary “but I seem to be in the minority. I appreciate input from the hoteliers who are in favor of this, so I will take their word for it.”
Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said the arts community has a stake in the tax hike proposal, especially with funding cuts to the arts threatened on the state level.
A bill filed in the Oklahoma House by Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, proposes all funding to the Oklahoma Arts Council be eliminated. The legislation, if approved, would reduce state funding to the council each fiscal year by 25 percent of the current funding level, eventually ending the appropriation in 2017.
The April 2 election coincides with a city election for mayor and four council seats. If approved, the new tax rate would go into effect May 1.