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Decatur council OKs hotel tax hike

By Evan Belanger 340-2442

Decatur's Ingalls Harbor could be seeing several improvements and additions sooner than officials expected.

During its regular meeting Monday, the Decatur City Council approved an ordinance to increase the city's room-occupancy tax by 50 cents per night.

The measure increases the surcharge for a hotel room at all of Decatur's 18 hotels from $1.50 to $2 a night.

According to Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, funding from the increase will likely be used to expedite repayment of debts associated with building Ingalls Harbor. With the debt paid off sooner, she said, more funding will be available to pursue the harbor's second construction phase.

$100,000 a year

"Even though it's only 50 cents, we're expecting the increase to generate about $100,000 more a year," she said.

According to Reist, the second phase of harbor construction is expected to include the building of a museum dedicated to the Tennessee River, a waterfront pavilion, a sheltered meeting area for fishing tournaments and a docking facility for riverboats.

Once the additions are completed, she said, they will be able to turn their attention and funding to other tourism-generating developments like a conference center, a sporting arena or even a Decatur-based riverboat.

Equipped with docks and a large boat ramp today, Ingalls Harbor got its start in 2005, when the city agreed to finance land purchasing and construction for the project at the request of the Visitors Bureau and the Decatur-Morgan County Hospitality Association.

Reist said both groups agreed to the room-occupancy tax years before to help repay the city for tourism developments like Ingalls Harbor. She said the tax is dedicated to local tourism development.

Established in 2001, the room-occupancy tax already generates about $300,000 annually for Ingalls Harbor. To date, it has raised more than $1.83 million.

Other projects funded by the tax include a $15,000 tourism study and work at Hospitality Park.

At its March meeting, the City Council voted to increase its funding for the harbor project, appropriating $150,000 to construct public bathrooms at the site.

Councilman Gary Hammon, who made the motion to increase the tax, commented on the city's involvement in the project Monday.

"It's good business sense," he said. "It's one of those things that you hear is a good investment, and in this case, it's correct."

The tax increase takes effect Sept. 1, according to the ordinance.

In addition to the tax, Reist said, she is w requesting millions in federal funding to help finish the project.

Ingalls Harbor hosts a number of fishing tournaments annually. According to Reist, the harbor hosted three large tournaments in 2006, generating more than $1 million.

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