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Nov. 29, 2021 | Monday
Editorials and Opinions
Letter-- NOTL hotel tax is a bad idea
Letter to the editor

Dear editor:

So I see town council, with the exception of three councilors, has approved a municipal accommodation tax.

It would seem to be a way of raising more money to cover the mismanagement of the budget by this council. There are a number of reasons why this tax is a bad idea.

Firstly, the town will have to manage the collection of this tax. Presumably they would have to hire someone to administer the tax. I'm not sure how the town would be able to determine how much tax to collect as currently there is no requirement to advise the town of revenue.

B&Bs are already required to administer the HST and this involves more time on our part. It is well-known that there are many illegal B&Bs, some B&Bs renting more rooms than they are licensed for and also Airbnbs.

The town has hired an outside company to investigate this area at some cost as opposed to having existing town bylaw staff carry out this function. This could also be accomplished by having bylaw officers on-call and paid, as our volunteer firefighters are, to investigate after-hour complaints as town staff generally only work 9-5.

It seems to me there are other avenues to increase funds for municipal coffers without punishing those who follow the rules.

Secondly, the tax is supposedly to finance tourism-related capital expenses such as toilets, bicycle lanes, benches and garbage cans. I am having a hard time imagining the cost of these items is so exorbitant that it requires this tax.

Bicycle paths along the Parkway and Niagara Stone Road are often ignored by cyclers so not I'm sure where these new bike lanes would be or that they would be utilized. How many garbage cans and benches are needed?

Tourism supports a large number of NOTL residents whether it be directly by owning or working in a restaurant, at the Shaw Festival and other businesses or indirectly by the value of owning a house, yet it is the accommodations that are expected to finance this rather than the community as a whole.

And the tax is only being applied to those with five rooms or more. This tax discriminates as it ignores the majority of B&Bs with four bedrooms or less. Country inns have four or more bedrooms but for some reason four-bedroom B&Bs are not in the same category as country inns.

I am not sure if a vacation rental property with five bedrooms is charged or is exempt. A reliable source has indicated that the Bed and Breakfast Association made a deal with Lord Mayor Betty Disero that the four-and-under providers would not be affected and withdrew its opposition. It is short-sighted to think that the town will not at some point decide to extend  the tax. I am unsure why the town does not consider the four-and-fewer providers as not being a tourism entity.

Asking tourists to spend more of their money on a tax besides the rental rate could have an effect on the demand or on NOTL's brand and risk being thought of as Niagara-on-the-Take.

As well, having just started  to come out of an 18-month shutdown, it seems backward when other levels of government are trying to find ways to support businesses that this government is finding ways to do the opposite.

The town should be congratulated in uniting the residents who complain about the number of tourists in town and the tourism industry. The tax was originally supposed to be 50 per cent to promote tourism to NOTL and 50 per cent to the municipality.

We already have many residents complaining about parking and other issues tourism brings  and promoting NOTL is meant to bring more tourists to town. NOTL is already well-known as a place to visit, whether it be for theatre, wineries or just a quieter place to stay instead of Niagara Falls, as evidenced by the places people come from acrosst Canada, the U.S. and worldwide.

Coun. Allen Bisback said those NOTL residents who do not live in Old Town don’t want to have to pay for tourism-related expenses. Glendale has the outlet mall. Virgil is expanding with new businesses popping up. St Davids and Queenston are surrounded by wineries and history. Projects in all localities of NOTL are funded by town revenues derived from tourism. Like it or not, tourism benefits all of NOTL.

The town has hiked accommodation licensing fees to raise funds to track down illegal short-term rental properties. Again, the onus was put on legal accommodations to pay for this endeavour as though the residents who live near and are affected by these places do not also have an interest in tracking them down.

I have written the premier, to Ontario's tourism minister and MPP Wayne Gates seeking their support in having the provincial government step in and reverse this decision. I also will be asking the regular customers who we see every year to write to council. I encourage others to do likewise.

I also noticed in your paper that council is considering a tax on bicycle riders to pay for more rural bike lanes. It makes you wonder where this will stop.

I also wonder why the hotel tax was rammed through with no consultation from the tourism industry and who it was meant to please.

I had high hopes for this council after the last election but it has been disappointing to see they can’t manage the budget and are bringing in this discriminatory tax to cover their mismanagement. Can’t wait for the next election.

Doug Johnson