County Treasurer answers essential questions that Lancaster press failed to ask
In response to the local press coverage of the alleged discrepancy between the County Treasurer’s reports of revenue and the hotel rooms sales tax and the hotel industry’s STR reports, thus repeatedly implying incompetence if not malfeasance by the County Treasurer, NewsLanc submitted specific questions to Country Treasurer Craig Ebersole. The response arrived within two hours! (Is there a reason why the Lancaster Newspapers didn’t ask?)
Below are Ebersole comprehensive and illuminating responses:
“We have reviewed our data as it compares to STR data and found the following….. There are 120 hotels/motels collecting the 5% tax in our county….. The STR data includes all 40 of the ‘flagged’ hotels, and so the data from the flags should be good….. but only about ½ of the non-flagged hotels. Curiously, their monthly census report includes the Shawnee Inn, which closed in 1993…. While they do not include the rooms, why in the world would a monthly report include a facility closed almost two decades ago? Their report also includes a facility that is located in Dauphin County, and about a handful of [Breads and Breakfasts]…… The area where they really miss the mark is:
1. Their report does not deduct any revenue dollars for the ‘exemptions’….. I pulled a sample month (Nov, 2011) and looked at the top ten facilities ……. They had in excess of $100,000 for the month in exempt sales or the equivalent of about $5,000 in hotel tax NOT collected. STR simply makes no adjustments for this on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.
2. The STR data takes a sampling of information, and then pushes out a number which they and others allege to be accurate. For much of last year, two of our largest facilities were having terrible years, as in occupancy levels below 30%, and together they account for about 8% of all rooms in the county, and one of these facilities is not a STR reporting entity….. but STR assumes they would have had occupancy levels on par with the other establishments.
We have performed audits, and continue to perform audits (less than 10 county treasurers in the entire state perform any audits) and the largest issues are in….. failure to include rollaway beds, and some young/inexperienced front desk person being persuaded to grant tax exempt status to a church group, when such exemption is not applicable.
The number of delinquent facilities is less than ten, and totals less than $100,000….. we call them, visit them, and involve the county solicitor as needed….. no one… is simply refusing to pay.”