Will 2013 be the year Harford County finally gets a hotel room tax?
Two local delegates, as well as Aberdeen city officials and the county's tourism and arts advocates, say they certainly hope so.
A brand-new version of legislation to levy along-fought-for tax on hotel and motel room rentals was introduced by Del. Glen Glass and Del. Mary-Dulany James in the Maryland General Assembly on Feb. 14.
The legislation, House Bill 1395, would allow Harford to impose a hotel rental tax of 6 percent in a "specified area," require county hotels to collect the tax and to file a tax return and pay taxes collected on or before a specified date each month, exempt certain hotels from the tax and authorize the governing body of Harford County to provide an exemption from the hotel rental tax for transient charges paid by specified organizations to provide temporary shelter for specified individuals.
Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett urged residents at the most recent city council meeting to support the bill by signing an online petition at SignOn.org, as well as by e-mailing state representatives like Glass and James.
The petition, spearheaded by the Center for the Arts, had 369 signatures as of early Wednesday afternoon. Center for the Arts is a local nonprofit that is spearheading the proposed development of a fine and performing arts center in Abingdon.
"This fee will do much to improve the quality of life in Harford County by supporting tourism and the arts," the online petition states. "It is estimated that 98% of the hotel occupancy tax will be contributed by visitors from outside of Harford County."
In the past, the notion of creating a new tax of any kind has been the main sticking point for state representatives, according to other local officials.
Bennett, however, said his colleagues in the Maryland Municipal League have almost unanimously been surprised to hear that Harford is the only county that still cannot charge its hotel and motel visitors a tax on their room rental.
Glass couldn't be immediately reached for comment, but in January, neither he nor State Sen. Nancy Jacobs, sounded optimistic about the bill's success. Both represent the Aberdeen area, which has one of the county's largest concentration of hotels.
Glass told The Aegis at the time he supported the tax but would probably not introduce it because it does not seem any other representatives would support it.
The hotel tax bill died in 2011 after it was tied to property tax relief for the proposed Village at Carsins Run continuing-care center in Aberdeen, which Aberdeen elected officials refused to grant. That Catch-22 led to the bill being withdrawn by James, its sponsor. No effort was made to introduce any room tax legislation in the 2012 General Assembly session.
Bennett said the current bill just went to the Ways and Means Committee and he hopes the effort does not get sabotaged again.
"We are keeping our fingers crossed and we are urging everyone to send e-mails and stuff to delegates James and Glass," he said Wednesday. "We are kind of cautiously optimistic."
"We are doing everything we can behind the scenes," he added, saying city officials could go to Annapolis "en masse" if they have to.
"If it gets on the floor of the Senate, I think it has a better than average chance of passing," Bennett said, explaining that is what he has heard through his connections at MML, in which he is an active member and past-president.
Bennett also said state officials should not be concerned about what part of the tax revenue will go toward the municipalities versus the county.
"That's what I have been lobbying all along: 'Hey, get us the tax, then we will internally... work that all out,'" the Aberdeen mayor said. "We will do whatever we need to do to get it parsed out right."