Town OK’s Hospitality Tax Plan

Cotton Yard Lease On Hold, Again

RIDGEWAY – Although discussed and discarded by Town Council more than a year ago, the town “Where History Still Lives” may finally be ready to put a price on its hospitality.

Council voted unanimously during its March 12 meeting to draft an ordinance instating a hospitality tax, placing first reading of the ordinance on their April 9 agenda. Councilman Russ Brown, who has long been a proponent of the tax but has seen his proposals for it rebuffed by Council on previous occasions, said the revenue could relieve some of the strain on the Town’s budget.

“I don’t see it generating a ton of money,” Brown said, “but in a little town every little bit helps and it would go to a lot of different things.”

Brown said the tax could not exceed 2 percent and could only be applied to prepared meals and beverages in an establishment or under an establishment’s license. The revenue could go toward tourism-related, cultural, recreational or historic facilities, as well as highways, roads, streets or bridges providing access to tourist destinations. The revenue could also go toward advertising and promotion of tourism development, and to water and sewer infrastructure serving tourism-related facilities. The funds could go toward preserving the arch on the old school property, and for promoting Pig on the Ridge, Arts on the Ridge and other Town events.

However, Brown said the Town should exercise caution when committing revenue generated by a hospitality tax.

“I think the town should be very careful on how it is spent and we may find it beneficial to build some of that up and have a kitty,” Brown said. “The thing that worries me is that if you use that money as a payment for a bond. Let’s say you get a bond and you’re using that money to help pay for that, and let’s say all those restaurants close down one day, then we’re hanging out to dry having to come up with that money.”

Council voted 5-0 to have the ordinance prepared and on their April agenda.

Railroad Lease

For the second meeting in a row, Council delayed a vote on the second and final reading of an ordinance to approve a lease by the Town on the Norfolk Southern Railroad property, commonly known as the Cotton Yard, in the center of town.

The $300 a year lease demanded by the railroad company would also require the Town to purchase liability insurance for the property at $1,000 a year. Mayor Charlene Herring told Council in December that the railroad company is reviewing leases and properties all across the state, forcing municipalities to either lease the lots and accept liability or see the lots fenced off. In Ridgeway’s case, at least two buildings stand on the property – the police station and the fire station – and the railroad would demand their removal unless the Town agreed to a lease.

Last month’s delay hinged on a question of responsibility for a County owned building sitting on the property, as well as a suggestion by Councilman Heath Cookendorfer that Ridgeway press the railroad for a lower price.

Last week, Council retreated into executive session to discuss the lease, emerging to vote 5-0 to table the final reading while declining to offer any specifics on the new delay.

In his motion to table, Cookendorfer said the decision was “due to consideration of some information we have received and we will be contacting Norfolk Southern to have some questions answered.”

“It’s a simple question, but we have to have an answer,” Brown said after the vote. “We can’t sign until we have an answer.”