ZACHARY — The city would have a source of income for recreation projects if voters approve an additional hotel occupancy tax proposition on the Oct. 24 ballot.
Mayor David Amrhein said out-of-town residents, for the most part, would pay the tax, which could be up to 5 percent of the room rates at Zachary’s two hotels.
Early voting for the election continues from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Motor Vehicles Building, 2250 Main St., Baker, or at the Registrar of Voters offices in Baton Rouge, 10500 Coursey Blvd., Suite 203, or at Baton Rouge City Hall, 222 St. Louis St., Suite 201.
If approved, the new tax would be in addition to a 4 percent hotel occupancy tax levied across East Baton Rouge Parish, including the city of Zachary. Visit Baton Rouge, the entity promoting tourism in the parish, gets 3 percent of the existing tax, while 1 percent goes to retire debt from the Baton Rouge River Center. The current total hotel tax, including state taxes, for East Baton Rouge Parish is 12.41 percent.
The new tax proposition was authorized by a 2014 state law that followed Zachary’s legislative attempts in 2012 to get 3 percent of the parish tax to promote tourism in Zachary, particularly for athletic events at the city-owned Zachary Youth Park.
The proposed 2012 legislation was dropped after the Baton Rouge Convention and Visitors Bureau, now called Visit Baton Rouge, agreed to spend $35,000 on advertising aimed at Zachary and to give Zachary $15,000 for two years.
“It was not a good deal for us,” Amrhein said, adding that the city’s focus shifted to an entirely new tax authorized by the 2014 legislation.
“We had to do something to keep some of the money in Zachary. Too much money is leaving Zachary,” the mayor said, estimating that the 4 percent tax generated about $125,000 in revenue.
At the full 5 percent, the proposition says the tax could be expected to generate $150,000 annually.
“All cities are doing something like this,” Amrhein said.
Since the Zachary Youth Park was constructed, the Amrhein administration has advertised the city as a destination for baseball and softball tournaments.
“We had 28 events at the park this year. We’ll probably have 35 to 40 next year. It’s a way to make money,” Amrhein said, noting that visitors attending the tournaments shop in the city and patronize local restaurants and the hotels.
The 2014 legislation allows the city to set the tax rate by ordinance and requires that the revenue be used to fund park improvements and to “fund other recreational opportunities” in Zachary.
Amrhein said the council has not decided how much the tax rate will be, but has “kicked around 3 to 5 percent.”
Visit Baton Rouge Chief Executive Officer Paul Arrigo said he is not taking a position on the proposed tax because it is strictly a local issue.
If the new revenue does help Zachary pursue more athletic events, however, the entire parish potentially could benefit from the added visitors, Arrigo said.
Amrhein said the city does not have any specific projects for the park now on the drawing board, but he said he and the council want to reconfigure the layout of the ball fields and possibly add more.