Thursday, July 7, 2022

Norment looks to raise sales tax in Greater Williamsburg — if city drops tax increase

Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City County
Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City County

State Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, Jr is looking to raise the sales tax in Greater Williamsburg, if the City of Williamsburg will drop its “historic” tax increase.

Norment has proposed a measure in the State Senate that would raise the sales tax by one percentage point in the City of Williamsburg and James City and York counties to “promote tourism in the area,” according to the proposal’s impact statement.

Half of the revenue from the increase would be directed to the Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee, a tourism group in Greater Williamsburg, while the other half of the revenue would be given directly back to the localities the tax was collected from.

The proposal would also eliminate the $2 transient occupancy tax, a tax collected for nightly stays in hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts in Greater Williamsburg.

The tax increase could bring as much as $15.3 million to local coffers in Fiscal Year 2019 after the elimination of the transient occupancy tax.

The proposal also excludes raising taxes on eating in restaurants.

However, the money will not come without strings attached.

The proposal is contingent on the City of Williamsburg repealing its tourism tax hike.

City Councilors voted in August to create a 3.5 percent tax on admission tickets, and increase taxes on meals from 5 to 6.5 percent and lodging from 5 to 7 percent, according to WYDaily archives.

Councilors voted again in September to raise the lodging tax to 8 percent, according to WYDaily archives.

The city sought to create a “tourism development fund” to promote tourism in Williamsburg.

Members of the council have indicated a variety of projects they want to see funded, such as a bike share, an aquatics center, an indoor-field house, among others on a long list of projects put forward by the city.

While the city saw the tax increase as a lifeline for Williamsburg tourism. One of the city’s largest employers, Colonial Williamsburg, said the move threatened its future.

In a letter to the city manager last year, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation President Mitchell Reiss wrote, “Significantly higher taxes on meals and hotel rooms, coupled with a new admissions tax on attractions like Colonial Williamsburg, will cause significant harm to those working the hardest, and likely contributing the most, to attract more visitors to our community.”

Norment is a member of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Board of Trustees. He voiced concern at the city’s tax increase at the June 8th City Council meeting when he asked councilors to refrain from instituting an admissions tax due to the foundation’s financial difficulties.

Tourism funding and “alternative revenue options” have remained a priority for all three localities in Greater Williamsburg, according to each locality’s respective legislative agenda.

The proposal is not law, but it could have broad implications on how the tourism economy in Greater Williamsburg continues.

Norment’s legislative aide Zachary Lemaster referred questions about the bill to a Senate Republican Caucus spokesman who did not immediately return a request for comment, but the bill is set to be reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee co-chaired by Norment.

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