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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The West Virginia Senate's vote Tuesday to eliminate a 30-day lodging exemption in the hotel-motel tax code is expected to help net more revenue for tourism, parks and recreation in Berkeley County.
Senators voted 34-0 to pass House Bill 4377 without debate, sending the legislation to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
The bill allows for continued lodging-tax collection from visitors who stay at hotels after their 30th consecutive night.
Steve Catlett, executive director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks and Recreation Board, said the bill's passage is "a big relief" because the agency faces a funding cut of about $60,000 from the Berkeley County Council.
"This is a really good thing for us," Catlett said. "The hotel-motel tax has been our saving grace for over three decades now."
The parks and recreation board and the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau split the hotel-motel tax revenue that is collected by the county and the city of Martinsburg.
After five years of declines, lodging-tax revenue is on track to increase for the second consecutive year, Catlett said.
Construction of the more than 1-million-square-foot Procter & Gamble plant in Berkeley County in the coming months also is expected to create a windfall of lodging tax revenue, said Catlett and Laura Gassler, executive director of the convention and visitors bureau.
With the removal of the exemption, long-term hotel stays by those involved with the P&G project can generate even more revenue for tourism-promotion efforts and parks and recreation, according to Gassler and Catlett.
In 2014, area hotels saw long-term occupancy due to film-production work for two cable television miniseries that were shot in the Eastern Panhandle, and Gassler couldn't rule out whether the exemption in state law resulted in lost revenue.
At the peak of production, each film crew spent about six weeks or more in the community for a total of more than 7,500 nights, Gassler said.
Besides eliminating the exemption, the bill clarifies the definition of a hotel room that can be taxed does not include sleeping accommodations rented on a month-to-month basis or other rental arrangement for 30 days or longer at a boarding house, condominium, cabin, tourist home, apartment or home.
Any additional revenue created by the law change wasn't included in the CVB's projection for the 2016-17 budget, but Gassler said it could help fund new programs and advertising efforts aimed at bringing more tourists to the community.
Action taken on other bills of local interest included:
• House Bill 4246, which proposes to change the name of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library system in state code and give both the Berkeley County Board of Education and the Berkeley County Council to power to appoint two members of the board of directors, is scheduled for a third reading on the Senate floor and final passage today.
The city of Martinsburg, which under current law appoints all five members of the governing board, would retain the power to appoint one member.
• Senate Bill 573, which would prohibit municipal annexation that would result in unincorporated areas within a municipality, passed the House of Delegates on Tuesday by a 91-5 vote.
Senators will either have to concur with the House's changes to the bill or reach an alternative agreement on the legislation before final passage.
There are at least four "islands" of unincorporated area within Martinsburg depicted on the city's ward map.
Dels. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, and Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, voted against the measure.