Sikkema To Help With Hotel Tax

    GRAND RAPIDS — State Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema said Kent County officials shouldn’t worry about being pushed into another lodging excise tax category in 2010, the year the county’s population is expected to top 600,000.

    The Republican lawmaker from Wyoming told the Business Journal last week that the county would be exempted from the State Convention Facility Development Act, a law that has hotel and motel operators add a surcharge ranging from 3 percent to 6 percent to a guest’s bill in counties with a population of more than 600,000. The exact amount of the surcharge depends on the number of rooms a hotel has, and the act affects three southeast counties.

    The county’s current lodging excise tax is a flat 5 percent

    County Fiscal Services Director Robert White said last week if the county isn’t exempted from the law, then local operators would be subject to both lodging taxes and not just the one for the higher-populated counties as reported by the Business Journal last week.

    White said local operators would then be forced to charge from 8 percent to 11 percent, instead of the current 5 percent, when Kent’s population surpasses 600,000. Of course, that would make hotel rooms more expensive. He also said the revenue from the current tax goes into the county’s coffer while receipts generated by the convention act go to the state.

    “We just have to change to population threshold for the act they’re currently on. I don’t see any problems,” said Sikkema.

    Sikkema also said that the county could give low-income residents a deferment on their upcoming property tax bill without state approval. County commissioners were concerned that the date change for this payment would cause an undue hardship for those with few assets except their homes and feared that some would become homeless if they couldn’t pay one-third of their property tax this summer.

    “We don’t have a problem with that,” said Sikkema of allowing low-income residents to defer part or all of their payment. “We’d be willing to look at it.”

    Sikkema added the county should go ahead with the deferments if it could afford to do so, as it is a county tax, but then not ask the state to reimburse those funds if it does.

    The county also wants a limit placed on the dollar amount of medical care it provides inmates at the jail and juvenile detention center. Kent currently spends about $5 million on that care annually.

    Sikkema said he understood the county’s problem and that it’s part of a larger problem everyone in the state is facing: the rising cost of health care. The senator wants to hear a proposal from the county, but cautioned that it couldn’t look to others to pick up the tab.

    “If they’re proposing to shift the cost to some other public entity,” he said, “I don’t think that is fair either.”    

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