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Jul. 12, 2020 | Sunday
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Tourism rep unhappy with mayor's advocacy for accommodation tax

 

Lord Mayor Betty Disero’s presentation on capital tourism projects on Monday night was “disappointing” and was meant to “justify a municipal accommodation tax,” says tourism industry representative Bob Jackson.

Jackson, chief executive officer of Lais Hotel Properties Limited, attended the workshop Monday along with some members of the tourism and accommodation industry.

“Last night, it was very concerning to us because we felt it was a false premise. All about getting an accommodation tax in,” he told The Lake Report in an interview Tuesday.

Disero made a presentation to council sharing her vision of how Niagara-on-the-Lake could look in the next decade or two and discussed what capital projects could be undertaken in NOTL and how to pay for them.

The projects could be paid for by raising taxes or user fees, public fundraising, charging more for events, borrowing money or by implementing a municipal accommodation tax, Disero said.

She said that over the last year she’s been thinking of how council operates and asked councillors how they want to be remembered by the end of their term in 2022.

She stressed her presentation is a starting point for discussions and nothing has been set in stone yet.

NOTL has other parts besides Old Town that are equally historically significant and have to be included in any marketing plans, Disero said.

Some of the potential capital projects included parking at Fort George, heritage lighting and Christmas decorations, Niagara Stone Road improvements, public washrooms, St. Davids Centre and lighting at the gazebo.

One of the lord mayor’s ideas was putting up decorative lighting and upgrading the landscape in the proposed development zone in Glendale to enhance the gateway into town. That would cost approximately $100,000 in addition to a rough cost of $14,000 for planting, $11,000 for irrigation and $5,000 for electrical upgrades.

The cost would be shared between the town and the Niagara Region, but the town wouldn’t have to pay until the end of the contract in 2023. However, the region will require a commitment in 2020, Disero said.

Another idea was to make Virgil look more like “a village” where people would stop and go for a walk or shopping.

“I want you to think higher level,” Disero told councillors.

“This concept for Virgil is one that will make it into a pleasant, user-friendly village that will also help businesses that are there now and other businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry come in and develop. It will help us to expand on the existing businesses we have now.”

The region is committed to redoing Niagara Stone Road in 2021-22 without any enhancements, unless the town commits to them, Disero said.

The streetscape concept for Niagara Stone Road, including benches, decorative crosswalks, hanging baskets, banner arms, a parkette with Christmas tree hookups on Field Road, an illuminated steel arch and other upgrades were estimated to cost almost $1 million.

Out of all projects proposed by Disero, only public washrooms on Queen Street have already been included in the town’s 10-year capital budget projections.

The town has $6.5 million per year to spend and there is also a $10.6 million shortfall every year in the town’s capital program.

“You can’t nickel-and-dime your way into trying to find (money). We need substantive changes,” Disero said.

Another idea included giving Queen Street a facelift, in particular, making the streets narrower by adding more sidewalk space, Disero said, adding that it “wouldn’t take away one parking spot.”

“It’s a mature street. The street is cracking, the sidewalk is lifting. It will have to be redone,” she said. “But all of it will be done through a public process with all the residents and businesses on the street.”

In regard to parking, regional councillor Gary Zalepa said the town could use expert help to look at a parking situation and start identifying what can be done. Technology can also be used to improve the experience for both residents and visitors alike, he said.

“We’re willing to help as much as we can with support at the region to help the town with that because it’s an important thing for us,” he said.

Jackson said he drives down Queen Street every day and he disagreed with the lord mayor that the main strip needs overhauling.

“Frankly, it is one of the best-kept streets in town compared to others. So, that’s not an issue.”

Jackson said it was “frustrating” for the idea of implementing the hotel tax to keep being brought up after the tourism industry has expressed its strong opposition to it numerous times.

“The projects the lord mayor outlined last night, are they specifically targeted towards tourism? I would argue they are not.”

“To be looking at companies that invest the most in this community and guests that invest the most in this community to pay for the town’s shortfalls from the budget perspective is incredibly misguided,” Jackson said.

At the meeting, Coun. Allan Bisback thanked Disero for the presentation, saying he is ready to provide his support.

“I think we get too bogged down in day-to-day stuff … so this makes me excited,” he said.

Coun. Gary Burroughs said there needs to be a “wholesome discussion” with the NOTL Chamber of Commerce and he was concerned the concepts appeared to be “a push” for a municipal accommodation tax.

“My only concern is we already have a communication issue with the residents of our town. Throwing out another issue without really clarifying what it is going to be is a mistake because it will be misinterpreted and cause even more communication problems,” Burroughs said. “When it goes out, explain exactly what it is.”

At the end of her presentation, Disero reminded everyone her concepts were just a starting point for a discussion.

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