Despite all the hoopla between Mount Vernon and Marion over the new STAR Bonds law, it's the King City who's had a better start to 2010 in terms of tourism than Williamson County.
Bed tax collections are up 3 percent for the first four months of 2010 in Mount Vernon compared to the same period in 2009. Marion and Williamson County has seen a 15 percent drop during the same time period.
Mount Vernon saw collections rise from around $176,000 to $182,000 while Williamson County suffered a drop from more than $235,600 down to just over $200,400. (However, one operator, Motel 6 has not paid January, March and April payments which should be at least $6,000 based on past years).
Mount Vernon Tourism Director Bonnie Jerdon told the Register-News that when compared to the same time in 2008 before the recession hit the tax receipts are down only $1,200.
Going back two years show receipts in Williamson County down just over $13,500 or about 6 percent compared with the first four months of 2008, though if the delinquent hotelier pays, then that amount would be cut by more than half.
The City of Mount Vernon charges a 5 percent bed tax which is split 60/40 with the tourism department and the city. The city also uses its home rule power to impose another $2 a night surcharge on room rentals.
(I believe that the 2 percent the city keeps is used for operate the city's west side municipal building near Holiday Inn where the tourism bureau and chamber of commerce have their offices.) By state law all of the 5 percent is supposed to go to tourism efforts. Historically, Mount Vernon has barely skirted around such requirements and occasionally has completely ignored them.
In Williamson County, the 5 percent bed tax is split 40/60 between the Williamson County Tourism Bureau and the Williamson County Events Commission, with the latter's share going to pay off the bonds used to finance the construction of the Williamson County Pavilion.
Marion hotel operators contribute the 2010 drop to the national economy, the colder-than-normal temperatures in Florida that discouraged some of the snow birds to travel south, or at least delay their travel; and a surge of business during the winters of 2008 and 2009 when ice storms caused major power outages in southernmost Illinois and western Kentucky and sent hundreds of residents north searching for places to stay with electricity and heat. This year's winter proved to be much milder.
Hotel and motel operators within the city limits of Marion earn about 85 percent of the bed tax revenue generated in the county.