Lisbon chamber should report bed tax spending

The Lisbon Chamber of Commerce’s lackadaisical response to Village Council’s inquiries about the chamber’s usage of its share of the village bed tax troubles us.

The 6 percent hotel/motel bed tax was adopted in the early 2000s after the section of state Route 154 where the Days Inn is located was annexed into town.

The resolution imposing the tax required the revenue be divided evenly between the village and Elkrun Township, with Lisbon’s share being split 50/50 with the chamber. While the village can spend the money however it sees fit, the chamber is required to use the money for tourism.

Because of the recent shale boom, bed tax revenues have risen considerably – with the village portion doubling in the last year to more than $40,000.

At its Feb. 12 meeting, Village Council requested that a representative of the chamber attend the next council meeting to discuss the bed tax usage. However, no one from the chamber showed at the Feb. 26 council meeting, and council members were told that their request was never forwarded to the chamber.

Obviously chamber members had gotten wind that council was asking questions, so quibbling over whether a formal invite was issued to a public meeting, seems disrespectful of a board which last year handed over more than $20,000 to the organization. Especially when the only string attached is a loosely defined tourism usage clause.

When Mayor Dan Bing later attended a meeting with the chamber, he was told that the chamber is spending the money for tourism as required, citing the annual Johnny Appleseed Festival and the concerts on the square as areas of usage. Chamber members agreed to put council on its mailing list and send copies of meeting minutes and financial reports.

Council is well within its rights to question whether the money is being used properly and in addition to the minutes and financial reports, should demand an additional annual report detailing how every dollar of the bed tax is spent by the chamber.

If the chamber doesn’t want to do that then council should consider developing its own tourism committee and allocating the money to it.

While the chamber is a private organization and is not required to disclose all of its business publicly, the money in question is public tax dollars, not dues or donations. Every penny spent should be accounted for and reported publicly on a regular basis.