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October 3, 2013

County hotel/motel tax seen as ‘positive’

Ada — Pontotoc County’s hotel/motel tax covers the salary of Pontotoc County Agri-Plex general manager Jr. Grissom and allows him to hire two full-time assistants as well as seasonal employee if necessary.

Proceeds from the tax also helped finance several upgrades to the agri-plex including new air conditioners and horse stalls. The county may also tap part of the proceeds to pay for resurfacing the parking lot on the south side of the agri-plex, which houses the Pontotoc County Free Fair and other events throughout the year.

Grissom said the tax, combined with rental fees, is the main source of funding for the agri-plex.

“It has really helped the agri-plex tremendously,” he said in a Sept. 4 interview.

Paying guests

The agri-plex is the main beneficiary of the tax, which is paid whenever out-of-town visitors spend the night in a Pontotoc County motel. The permanent tax adds a 5 percent surcharge to the guest’s motel bill.

Voters approved the tax in July 2006, and the county began collecting the money the following January. So far the tax has generated approximately $1.65 million, which is earmarked for maintenance and upgrades at the agri-plex and for efforts to promote tourism.

Some of the money went to the Bertha Frank Teague Mid-America Classic high school basketball tournament, which brings the top girls basketball programs in the region to Ada for a three-day event.

Tournament organizers have received $6,000 in hotel/motel tax money over the past three years for radio advertising, said board member Allen Butler. Organizers promote the tournament on the Oklahoma City-based sports station The Sports Animal in hopes of attracting out-of-town visitors to Ada.

Without a share of the tax dollars, organizers would have to scale back efforts to promote the tournament, Butler said.

“We use it strictly for advertising to try to get people in the doors,” he said. “It’s been a great help for us.”

Butler said tournament attendance has risen over the past three years, but specific numbers were not immediately available.

The county’s marketing and tourism committee evaluates applications from organizations seeking a share of the hotel/motel tax proceeds to help promote their event. The board reviews the applications and makes funding recommendations to the Pontotoc County Commission, which makes the final decision.

The committee is most likely to recommend funding for events that will encourage people to stay overnight, said Butler, who serves on the board. He noted that visitors generate money for local government and, ultimately, efforts to promote tourism.

“That’s what we’re trying to do — create some revenue for the city, the county and the tourism board,” he said.

Butler said the committee does not have a long-term plan for boosting tourism, but members have discussed several options for attracting more visitors to the area. He added that the committee’s efforts to promote tourism would suffer without the hotel tax.

“You could probably do something, but everybody knows when you’ve got money in place, it’s a lot easier to make things happen,” he said. “It’s definitely a positive.”

Committee member Billie Floyd said groups seeking a share of the proceeds from the hotel/motel tax must show that they will promote their event across the state. After the event ends, the committee checks to make sure the group used the money properly.

Floyd said the committee’s ultimate goal is to bring more overnight visitors to Pontotoc County.

“We are trying to use that money to bring more people in that are traveling and will stay in our hotels and motels and eat in our restaurants,” she said.

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