PRINCETON — More resorts and other lodgers offering accommodations to ATV tourists are appearing in Mercer County, but several are not listed as businesses and as a result, they are not paying a county hotel/motel tax that helps fund tourism development.
More entrepreneurs in Mercer County have been offering rooms, cabins, camping sites and other places to stay as the number of ATV tourists coming to ride the Hatfield-McCoy Trail continues to grow.
“In recent years, there has been a surge in lodging, ranging from resorts and cabins to vacation homes, to accompany the ATV industry,” according to Executive Director Jamie Null of the Mercer County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Many times, these new businesses are not complying with state and local regulations.”
There are a number of reasons why new lodging providers are not complying with these regulations, she said.
“It can simply be that they just don’t know or understand what comes with owning a business that caters to tourism or the community,” Null said. “This could be because they are new to the state and the industry. For example, there is a local hotel/motel tax and we need to educate about how that tax, which is passed on to the customer and a tax that multiple counties and states use, helps to support and grow tourism.”
“The CVB wants to make sure all hotels, resorts and vacation rentals are on the same page for fairness, and to help them grow in the tourism industry,” she added. “We want to work with the (Mercer County Commission) and other organizations to ensure proper travel growth in a responsible way in Mercer County.”
The county currently does not have a permit process for ATV lodgings. One possible approach to making sure new ATV lodgings pay the hotel/motel tax would be to have a permitting process, according to County Commission President Gene Buckner.
“And the reason is that we have seen people coming into our county and buying property and renting out houses and camping spots, and we have no record about it,” Buckner said. “And we’re losing a lot of hotel/motel tax because of that.”
“That happens quite frequently,” Commissioner Greg Puckett said about new ATV resorts the county government does not know about. “There is no registration form that a business fills out in the county other than the flood permit. That’s really the only thing that people come in for, and so like, they don’t have to notify us. Usually a business will call in and ask what zoning requirements there are in the county, and there are none; which I think is a tremendous hindrance on the protection of businesses.”
Puckett said that prospective businesses often ask about zoning.
“What happens is a lot of businesses find out there is no zoning in the community and they look elsewhere because they want to protect their businesses,” Puckett said. “And they also want to know what resources are readily available. That’s something businesses want to look for when they want to relocate into an area.”
One possible remedy for the problem of new ATV resorts not paying county hotel/motel taxes is to contact the Secretary of State’s Office and have them send the county a list of all new businesses affiliated with ATVs, Buckner said.
A permitting ordinance, if the county considers using one, would not be a zoning ordinance, he stated.
The Mercer County Commission discussed the issue during its September meeting. Buckner said that no action was taken. The commission will need to get public comments and see what the county’s attorney, Prosecuting Attorney Brian Cochran, advises before any actions such as a possible ordinance requiring permits would be considered. Whether current ATV businesses would need permits as well as new ones would have to be discussed as well.
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org