A day after its biggest event of the year was cancelled by Sunday’s snow and freezing rain, the Washington Town Council heard that its meals-and-lodging tax revenues, the town’s most reliable indicator of tourism trade, were heading steadily up.
At its regular monthly meeting Monday (Dec. 9), Mayor John Fox Sullivan announced that the tax revenues from July 1 through November of this year were up 17.7 percent over the same period last year. For January through November 2013, he said, the revenues were up 18.7 percent over last year.
He received nods from four fellow council members; absent were Alice Butler and Patrick O’Connell, the latter for the third month in a row, reportedly due to work obligations. (Chef O’Connell’s Inn at Little Washington is, not coincidentally, the town’s — and county’s — biggest tourist attraction.)
“So general improvement continues,” said Sullivan, “which is good for everybody.”
Council member Jerry Goebel pointed out that the revenues were up slightly every month, “rather than in big jumps here and there,” which he said was another positive local-economy indicator.
Meals and lodging tax revenue paid in November in the town was $26,687 — which is 2.5 percent of more than $1 million in gross tourism revenue.
Town attorney John Bennett gave a brief report on the state of a revision of the town’s meals-and-lodging tax ordinance — a revision designed primarily, he said, to bring the 25-year-old document’s language in line with related, and newer, health-department and zoning legislation, following a discussion at a town council meeting earlier in the fall.
“If we’re reviewing the language,” asked council member Dan Spethmann, “does it make sense to also review the rate?”
The meals-and-lodging tax rate, at 2.5 percent of qualifying revenue taken in by B&Bs, hotels and restaurants in town, is among the lowest such tax rates in the state, and has not changed since the tax was first created in 1987.
Gay Street Inn co-owner Gary Aichele, in the audience for the meeting (and unanimously appointed later in the meeting to fill one of two vacancies on the town’s planning committee), said he and his wife have researched accommodations taxes throughout Virginia, and confirmed that the town’s rate is low. When combined with the state’s sales tax, “it’s 7.8 percent added on to the bill,” he said. “Guests are often surprised; virtually no one expects the rate to be under 10 percent.”
“There’s no question that our rate is less than in most places,” said Sullivan, who added that considering any changes to the rate should be part of a larger discussion “that we need to have before we get into the next budget cycle.”
Included in the factors to be considered, Sullivan pointed out, is the impending increase in available lodging — after the six-room White Moose Inn hotel opens this winter on Main Street, and The Inn at Little Washington completes a renovation of Clopton House into four more luxury suites by spring.
“We’re looking at room availability in this town increasing by about 40 percent,” he said. “And that’s not even counting an enhanced restaurant on the way [a reference to Thornton River Grille’s plan to convert Tula’s off Main from a cafe to a full-service restaurant]. There’s all these pieces to be considered.”
After last month’s discussion on the future of Avon Hall, Sullivan said council members Spethmann and Mary Ann Kuhn and had agreed to serve on a committee to come up with a plan for the aging estate in the center of town. The council also heard a report from Peter Kreyling, who last restored Avon Hall for the town about six years ago, that the main building and nearby Rose Cottage needed minor repairs and patching-up, but were in relatively stable shape.
Sullivan also spoke of his and the council’s “appreciation for the incredible amount of work done on behalf of the Christmas parade and artisans’ markets, which of course didn’t take place . . .
“Expectations were that it would be the best parade ever,” he said, “and though it’s now the best parade ever that didn’t happen, there’s three people I’d like to recognize — at the risk of alienating a hundred or so others. One is Chris Doxzen, who did an energetic and incredible job of organizing the parade; Denise Chandler, who has organized the parade in the past and asked to bow out this year, but still spent much time and gave of her knowledge; and Berni Olson, who was responsible for the markets, and was in the center of making a lot of good things happen.”