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Hoteliers fear impact as room tax is OK'd


The General Assembly has approved a 3 percent hotel room tax for Harford County, expected to generate about $400,000 annually, to increase county tourism.

Harford likely will use the money to create a tourism bureau to promote such attractions as the Ladew Topiary Gardens, the Decoy Museum and the 19th-century Steppingstone Museum in Havre de Grace and the Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said.

"I can see us becoming a one-day excursion from Baltimore City for convention visitors and their spouses," she said.

That was not good news for Gary M. Reich, manager and partner of the Sheraton Inn in Aberdeen. Mr. Reich, who acts as an informal spokesman for the county's hotel and motel owners and operators, said hoteliers accepted the tax only because they expect to get more overnight visitors.

"Our preference would be to not have any tax at all. The Aberdeen hotels get primarily government visitors on a fixed amount of money. To keep that traffic, we may have to pay the tax ourselves and reduce room prices accordingly," said Mr. Reich.

He said other visitors, mostly motorists from Interstate 95, choose hotels at random.

"If there was a way to capture more of the traffic off of the highways, that would help us all," Mr. Reich said.

George F. Harrison, county spokesman, said room tax revenues would be used to "package" the county and promote it as a two-day stop. "In addition to various attractions, there are festivals we can promote and more festivals we can create," he said.

Room tax revenues also would be distributed to the county's three incorporated towns, Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, Mr. Harrison said.

Harford had been the only subdivision in the state that did not have a local room tax.

L The General Assembly acted on other Harford bills, creating:

* A series of property tax credits and loan guarantees for new business and existing business expansion in Edgewood, particularly along the U.S. 40 corridor.

* New rules on dismissing sheriff's deputies, which protects them from being fired without just cause. "Right now deputies serve at the pleasure of the sheriff. This law will keep them from being fired for things like backing the wrong person for sheriff," Mrs. Rehrmann said.

* A separate workers' compensation classification for members of the county's volunteer fire and emergency corps who do administrative work but don't go out on calls. This will save money because these volunteers do not need as much insurance since they are not as much at risk.

The 5 percent snack tax on some salty foods, an extension of the state's sales tax, was not repealed. Frito-Lay said it planned to divert hundreds of jobs and capital expansion away from its Aberdeen plant to other states.

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