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July 18, 2018

7/11/2018 3:15:00 PM
Bath Supervisors Approve Lodging Tax Increase
News Editor

HOT SPRINGS — The Bath County Board of Sup-ervisors has adopted an ordinance that increases the transient occupancy tax on The Omni Homestead Resort by 5 percent.

Supervisors approved the increase following a public hearing during their regular July meeting Tuesday night.

The lodging tax increase will be returned to Omni to fund capital improvements at the historic Hot Springs hotel.

The increase will take effect Sept. 1. It was previously approved during the 2018 session of the Virginia General Assembly. Supervisors expressed their support for the increase when it was first proposed by Omni officials in November.

County Administrator Ashton Harrison explained that only two properties in Virginia — including The Omni Homestead — are eligible for this tax.

The tax only applies to a structure that contains 450 or more rooms, is situated on one or more parcels of land exceeding 700 acres and some or all portions of the structure were constructed prior to 1930.

Harrison further explained that the tax is collected by the county and passed to the Bath County Economic Development Authority before returned to The Homestead.

“It’s a three-party agreement,” Harrison said. “We’re still negotiating and working with Omni and the EDA.

“The draft agreement has been sent back to Omni,” he added. “We’re awaiting their response.”

Harrison said that the tax would generate about $1.5 million in additional revenues each year.

“That is a drop in the bucket to what Omni plans to spend on restoring their property in Bath County,” he said.

Much of Tuesday’s public hearing centered on Omni’s plans to restore the historic Jefferson Pools. The pools were closed by the county in October due to deteriorating conditions.

Jay Trinca proposed an addition to the ordinance that would allow monies collected from the tax increase to be used on other properties besides lodging.

“Those pools are what we are all about,” Trinca said. “That money, in my view, ought to be spent — priority on the pools, and then, secondly, on the hotel.”

County attorney Mike Lockaby addressed Trinca’s suggestion.

“I actually share some of Mr. Trinca’s concerns, but my hands are tied,” Lockaby said. “The language that is in the ordinance is an exact quote from the state statute, and we can’t expand what the state statute allows us to do.”

Nonetheless, Lockaby said the language in the ordinance could be open to liberal interpretation.

“This can be somewhat liberally interpreted to include other structures that are already associated with the hotel that are part of the broader resort property,” Lockaby said. “I also understand that is an interpretational matter.”

Mark Koslen presented an online petition to supervisors titled “Save the Jefferson Pools.” The petition contained 1,075 signatures.

Koslen said the purpose of the petition is “to strongly encourage the board of supervisors and the economic development authority to communicate in any way they can how essential the restoration of the bathhouses is.”

Koslen said he was returning to his home in West Virginia some 40 years ago when he discovered the Jefferson Pools. He then moved to Bath County about 20 years ago.

“I took the waters almost daily,” he said. “I miss them terribly.”

Koslen said he’d seen first-hand the joy and health benefits people from all over the world had experienced from visiting the pools.

“They love the history,” he said. “They love the stories of Jefferson and Lee.”

Koslen asked supervisors to accept the petition and pass it on to Omni management.

“The bathhouses have incredible, unique value,” he said. “The point is clear: The bathhouses must be restored and the pools publicly functional again.”

Phil Deemer, representing Preservation Bath, chronicled Omni’s steps thus far to restore the pools.

“Omni treasures the properties, takes good care of them and does their best to move forward,” Deemer said. “They’ve proven that everywhere. Now they need to prove it in Bath County.”

Deemer commended Omni for setting up committees to plan for the preservation of the pools and completing a historic structures report.

“That lays out not just the history of the pools but also what needs to be done to properly restore them,” he said.

Deemer explained that in January after the county had closed the pools, historic architects revisited the property to assess its condition.

“The whole ballgame changes if those bathhouses collapse,” Deemer said.

He further explained that the architect has said the buildings can be properly restored as they are now standing, but no action has been taken since February.

“They don’t have to be totally taken down and totally reconstructed,” Deemer said. “There is enough of the original fabric, there’s enough of the structural integrity of the buildings that they can be properly restored.

“That is so much better than if they fall down, and they have to be started again,” he continued.

Deemer asked supervisors to suggest that Omni complete short-term repairs to the pools while long-term plans for restoration are considered.

“Please, ask them to at least take care of the buildings until they make a decision about how they want to proceed,” he said. “Make sure they protect the buildings in the short run, and then they do it right in the long run.”

Deemer told supervisors that the restoration of the pools will be an asset for the county.

“It will be glorious for Bath County, and you will be very proud that you ask them to do that.”

Supervisors Chairman Richard Byrd said he worked on the agreement with Omni, but supervisors had no authority in telling a private business how to conduct its operations.

“We did put it in the document that we would like for the Jefferson Pools to be addressed first,” Byrd said.

Supervisor Stuart Hall added, “They assured that we would have a certain number of jobs in this county and they would spend a certain amount of money to restore this hotel if we would agree to this 5 percent lodging tax. Other than that, we have no other authority.

“If we OK this ordinance tonight, it starts the ball rolling,” Hall added. “As far as telling them what to do, it was not any intention of any board member to ever tell them what to do.”

Supervisors approved the ordinance by a vote of 5-0.

Also Tuesday evening, supervisors unanimously approved a resolution endorsing the Hot Springs U.S. 220/Rt. 615 intersection improvements application for the Smart Scale program.

The county intends to submit an application to Smart Scale to fund the widening of sidewalks at the Va. 615 leg of the T-intersection, upgrade all crosswalks to continential-style, add a crosswalk near the post office and connect to a sidewalk bump-out. They also plan to add street lighting and pedestrian actuated crosswalk beacons on U.S. 220.

The project meets the needs of the county’s development growth area.

Several months ago, supervisors were presented several options for improvements at the intersection in downtown Hot Springs. They chose this proposal.

“It is not the roundabout,” Harrison said.

Additionally Tuesday evening, Supervisor Eddy Hicklin reported that the Speyside stave mill is now up and running in Millboro.

“It’s been a long journey to see it happen,” Hicklin said. “I’d like to say thank you to everyone on the EDA at the time when that happened.”

Hicklin concluded by expressing his gratitude to Wayne and Maggie Anderson for their efforts in attracting the new industry.

“They’re the ones who really brought it home,” Hicklin said.

In other business Tuesday evening, supervisors:

— set an Aug. 14 public hearing on a rezoning proposal from B-1 (Convenience Business) to B-2 (General Business) on 0.77 acres of property owned by Bath Community Hospital and located in the Cedar Creek Magisterial District;

— recommended the appointment of Scott Buchewicz to the Warm Springs Sanitation Commission. The recommendation is forwarded to the State Health Commission and will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of A.B. Mackey;

— approved the reappointments of Jay Bryan, Dr. James Redington and John C. Singleton to the Bath County Airport Authority. These appointments run through Aug. 1, 2021.

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