Visitors to Walker County could see an additional charge on lodging bills beginning as early as this summer.
During his Feb. 22 public meeting, Commissioner Shannon Whitfield said Sen. Jeff Mullis will introduce a bill this legislative session that will allow the county to collect an 8 percent excise tax on accommodations.
"We are one of the few counties, statewide, that does not collect a hotel/motel tax," Whitfield said.
The commissioner described this as a great way of increasing revenue without adding to the property taxes.
Not only is the hotel/motel tax commonly charged by counties, it is a regular item on bills in cities across the state. Already, Chickamauga collects a 5 percent. Lookout Mountain a 3 percent and LaFayette a 5 percent tax on overnight guests.
The excise tax proposed by Whitfield will collect 8 percent total: 5 percent would be earmarked for marketing and promoting tourism and 3 percent would be deposited into the county's general fund.
The new tax would be collected on county-owned properties within its cities, such as the Marsh House in LaFayette, and on all properties within the unincorporated areas. This would include rentals such as offered via Airbnb, the cottages at McLemore Cove Farms or the soon-to-be-built conference and convention center atop Lookout Mountain at the former Canyon Ridge development.
Whitfield said work to redo the Canyon Ridge golf course is set to begin in a matter of weeks, including relocation of the 18th hole to allow construction of a new club house on the brow overlooking McClemore Cove.
The commissioner was not at liberty to announce a formal agreement between McClemore — the new name for Canyon Ridge — owner Duane Horton and a major franchise operator of hotels and conference centers. But work on the 180-room hotel, golf course, conference center is expected to begin shortly and has a projected cost of about $100 million.
While the county has provided 30 years of property tax abatements for the project, the accommodations tax would be collected from the day the hotel opens for business.
Sen. Mullis has time to introduce the necessary paperwork before the close of this year's legislative session, but how quickly the item could be voted on and forwarded for the governor's signature is not known.
If passed this session, the tax could go into effect as early as July 1, 2018, the beginning of the state's fiscal year.