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Wilson Co. Hotel Owners Worry about Tax Increase - John Dunn

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LEBANON, Tenn. - There is controversy surrounding a proposed Expo Center in Wilson County. Some hotel owners say they are being unfairly targeted. A hotel tax hike could help pay for the $9 million building. "In my opinion the burden is put solely on the hotels, which I feel is an unfair taxing of a single business," says Lebanon La Quinta Inn owner Roshan Patel.

Large crowds come every August for the fair, but leaders say more is needed to bring in people the rest of the year. A new Expo Center may provide the boost, and a 3% tax on hotel customers may provide the funding.
Hotel owners worry their customers will never use the Expo Center and may choose a different hotel if prices go up. "Consumers these days, you know everything is mobile, so they definitely know where the lowest price is," says Patel.

Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto says the Expo Center will draw more peopl,e who may stay in hotels and spend their money. "The five million dollar economic impact that the study shows is going to be a big deal for our retailers and restaurants," says Mayor Hutto.

Just this week County Commissioners began discussing a one dollar ticket surcharge at events held at the fairgrounds, which would also support the Expo Center. Hutto says he is sensitive to the hotel owners' concerns. "We're trying to make it a win for them, as well as a win for our people too," says Mayor Hutto.

Raising the rate would also affect hotels in Mt. Juliet, which is about 15 miles away.  Owners say it would give them one of the highest hotel tax rates in the country. "And we currently are higher than municipalities like San Antonio, New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta. Adding the 3% would just put us way beyond anybody," says Patel.

While many agree the Expo Center is a worthwhile idea, hotel owners believe high taxes hurt business.

The state legislature must first agree to allow Wilson County to raise its hotel tax rate and collect a ticket surcharge. The county hopes to open its new Expo Center in 2015.

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