By PJ Tracy
The Murfreesboro Tourism Commission Board, which is charged with the collection and disbursement of the recently passed local tourism tax, had its first meeting recently.
The group was sworn in and drew for their length of terms on the board. The terms are: one year, Jack Bonds; two years, Misty Wilson and Jane Fugitt; three years, Jean Floyd and Randy Riddle; and four years, Robin Dildy and Jamie Terrell.
The seven member group initially discussed the forms that would be supplied to eligible businesses. The two percent tourism tax recently passed by the Murfreesboro City Council in the form of Ordinance 2-1018 that affects tourism based eligible businesses — essentially a “bed tax” for visiting tourists — inside the city limits.
Businesses will submit payments to the City Clerk, who will then disburse all funds at the end of the month to the Tourism Commission. For every $5,000 collected at eligible businesses, the tourism commission will garner $100.
An account will be opened at Diamond Bank, per the suggestion of board member Terrell, to avoid any appearance of impropriety. Terrell is an employee of First State Bank.
Eleven businesses were identified as tax eligible: Queen of Diamonds Inn, Yellow Diamond Inn, Diamond Oaks Bed and Breakfast, Dildy’s Double D, Little Shamrock Motel, the Ireland Hotel, Murfreesboro RV Park, Gayland G. Hopper Vacation Rental, Budget Diamond Hunters House 1 & 2, The Diamond Hideaway and the Crater of Diamonds RV Park.
The group did allow a two percent discount to businesses if paid by the 20th day of each month, and a 10 percent penalty will be assessed businesses whose payment is postmarked or delivered later than the last day of any month. Should any business not submit a payment at all, the commission holds the power to enforce a 50 percent penalty plus an additional 1 percent per month if a business is found deficient due to neglect or intentional disregard.
The plan is modeled after similar taxes in such local towns as Hope, Arkadelphia and Washington, home of Historic Washington State Park.
More businesses may be identified down the road, and it was stated that any residence rented on a nightly or weekly basis qualified for tax collection. Monthly rentals fall outside the purview of the tax. Regulations are included in Arkansas Act 386 of 1941 which lists exemptions as of the 2011 update.
The group also discussed the hope that legislation can be changed that disallows anything under a first class city from enforcing their tax upon an amusement park. Being a second class city, the Murfreesboro tax cannot be employed to the revenues of the Crater of Diamonds in any other way than the afore mentioned RV park.
Conversations between the group and local legislators Justin Gonzalez and Larry Teague, along with the guidance of the Arkansas Municipal League, are ongoing.
The argument is that while Act 386 doesn’t specifically state that a second class city has the power to levy taxes on entertainment venues and thus is prohibited, it also does not specifically say it cannot, thus leading to the hope the vague statute can be slightly reworded and a specific amendment can perhaps be issued for Murfreesboro’s special case.
“We hope this changed down the road,” said Murfreesboro Mayor Rodney Fagan, noting that Murfreesboro’s proximity to the Crater of Diamonds was fairly unique in the state as far as such a large drawing venue within the borders of a second class city.
“It’s not right that only the motels caught this,” said Bonds.
“But if we can do it and show people it is working, then they all may want to get on board.”
The group stated they wished to deliver the forms to businesses as soon as possible so that tax collection could begin on Aug. 1. This would allow the group to capitalize on some part of the tourist season this year.
Fagan thanked all the members and acknowledged their efforts both past and present.
Floyd was elected chairperson for the board, while Fugitt was tasked with the combined duties of secretary and treasurer.
The group said they hoped to eventually employ a treasurer, but for now the accounting will be done in-house. It was also noted that in addition to the need for a website, and application would need to be created as qualified ventures locally could apply to the commission for funds.
The plan for use of much of the funds will be a “mission to market Murfreesboro,” or the town as a whole, and not exclusively the Crater of Diamonds State Park.
“We will push tourism and hopefully help bring in more businesses,” said Fugitt, also noting to the board that the local Chamber of Commerce would soon unveil a new and improved website.
The group will meet again on Aug. 6 at 6 p.m., and the first Monday of each month thereafter at the City of Murfreesboro Council Chambers in the city’s Municipal Building.
Board members who miss two consecutive meetings will face expulsion from the group.
“We are a team … we all have to trust each other but cannot be afraid of conflict and differing ideas … but we must be committed,” said Floyd, adding that the topics of mission, vision and purpose will be on the agenda in August.