Some local restaurants 'not happy' about tourism tax

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Collection of tourism tax continues to be an issue, tourism director says

By The Staff

Collection of the City of Lebanon's tourism tax continues to be an issue, and that's because the collection policy is "soft," according to Chris Hamilton, executive director of the Lebanon and Tourist Convention Commission. Approximately $8,000 is delinquent from local restaurants, including Big Jim's, Sam B's, Cedarwood, Henning's, Arby's, Captain D's, Subway, Subway at Walmart, Wendy's, Myrtledene and Willie A's, according to Hamilton's monthly executive director's report. However, according to newly appointed Tourism Commissioner Kenny Marrett, Hamilton should expect that. "We can expect it's going to be like that every year. Somebody is always going to be late," Marrett said. However, Hamilton said the same businesses are delinquent every month. "We don't have a very strong policy," he said. Marrett told Hamilton the only thing the commission could do is turn the delinquent accounts over to the court system. "But they will not take action. The county attorney won't do it," Marrett said. Hamilton, however, said he has spoken with Marion County Attorney Joe Mattingly and that he assured Hamilton that he would prosecute those businesses in court. According to Marrett, he has talked to several restaurant owners recently, and many of them are "not happy" about the tourism tax in general. "We've got to get these restaurants to feel better about what we're doing," Marrett said. "We have to do something to improve our image." Hamilton asked Marrett what restaurants he was referring to. Marrett said he would rather that information not be printed in the newspaper, but a reporter for The Lebanon Enterprise reminded him that he was at a public meeting. Marrett went on to say that the specific restaurant owners he was referring to were Joe Drye of Famous Recipe, Monica Henning of Henning's Restaurant and Charles Mills of Chasers. Richardson suggested that Hamilton try to visit the local restaurants more often and talk to the restaurant owners. "Go in and let them vent," Richardson said. "Maybe we need to get a little closer to the guys that collect (the tax) for us." Hamilton said he was surprised that Mills was upset, being that the tourism commission has generated a great deal of business for Chasers. "I would think that Charles Mills and Chasers would absolutely love us with the business we have hand-delivered to them," Hamilton said. "Literally, bus loads of people." According to Marrett, the real problem lies with people's perception of tourism and the tourism commission. "It's perception. I can't fix that," Marrett said. And while the commission can't "fix" people's perception of the tourism commission, the commission's communication with business owners and the public could improve, Richardson said. "We're not going to convince everybody that what we're doing is a good thing," he said. "But I don't think that keeps us from making the effort."   In other tourism-related matters:   Election of officers... Commissioners elected Carlotta Brussell to become the tourism commission's chairman. David Winebrenner has held that seat for the past year. Jim Richardson was re-elected as the commission's treasurer.    Ethics code... A situation during the Lebanon City Council's meeting Monday, June 7, has led Hamilton to request that the commission develop its own ethics code. "My performance review was brought up at a city council meeting. The Kentucky Ethics Commission says that that's inappropriate," Hamilton said. "Whether there was an official violation, it would fall back to our ethics code. The city attorney is looking into that." According to Hamilton, the Kentucky Tourism Council recommends that tourism commissions have their own ethics codes. And while Commission Chairman David Winebrenner wasn't at the commission's June 14 meeting, he asked Hamilton to inquire about the situation on his behalf, Hamilton said. More specifically, Winebrenner wanted to know who released Chris' performance review. Marrett told the commission that he was the one who brought up Hamilton's review during the council meeting. "There was no action taken. It was never made public because Gary (Crenshaw) didn't allow it to be," Marrett said. "I didn't know that you were considered a city employee. I was unaware that I was violating any ethics." Marrett said he couldn't remember where he got Hamilton's performance review. "Where I got that at, truth of the matter, Chris, I don't know." Richardson suggested that the commission review the city's ethics code and consider adopting it as its own. "It would make all the sense in the world to me to operate by the city's ethics code," he said. "But I don't know what it is. I'd like to see it. We can deal with that at the next meeting."