Hotel stays a taxing issue for Youngsville

Youngsville voters will decide Oct. 19 whether to levy a 4 percent tax on hotel stays, even though there are no hotels in the city.

“We are doing some wishful thinking,” chuckled Mayor Wilson Viator when asked about the council’s unanimous vote on Thursday to put the measure on the ballot this fall.

But Viator said he doesn’t expect the quickly growing city of some 9,000 residents to go without a hotel for much longer, considering that construction is underway on a $16.3 million recreation complex with the hope of luring large regional sports tournaments.

“Once we get people in and they see how nice it is, they will be coming back,” Viator said.

He said consultants estimate that within just a few years, the park will likely attract one million visitors annually.

The recreation complex is taking shape on 70 acres next to the Sugar Mill Pond residential and commercial development.

Construction is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year, and the facility should open in January or February, offering playgrounds, pavilions, a walking trail and several sports fields.

The recreation complex is being paid for with the proceeds from a one cent sales tax that Youngsville voters approved in 2011. That tax will generate about $1.8 million this year, according to figures from the city.

Youngsville also plans to build a $6.2 million community center at the recreation complex. Viator said money from the hotel tax would be used toward the cost of building, operating and maintaining the community center.

The state has already approved $3.5 million for the community center, which Viator said should be open by the summer of 2014.

He said plans for the community center call for two indoor basketball courts that could also be used for volleyball, pickle ball or other sports, plus office space for the park staff and a large meeting room.

The city pushed early for the hotel tax, Viator said, because the legal process to levy the tax takes so long. He said it is better to have it in place before a hotel is built so collections can began immediately.

“We are trying to stay ahead of the eight ball,” he said. “... If we would wait until we have a hotel come in, we would be a year behind.”

The hotel tax required approval by the state legislature, which the city obtained druing this year’s session, as well as the voter approval that the city will seek this fall.

The 4 percent tax would be charged against stays in any hotel, motel or RV park.

Viator said there is interest from hotel developers in the city, but nothing concrete has materialized.

“We have talked to several people, but there has been no purchase yet,” he said.