Editorial: Good work on dealing with lodging taxes

Published 9:19 am Wednesday, January 14, 2015

We commend the Albert Lea City Council, Albert Lea Charter Commission and various people behind the scenes at Albert Lea City Hall and the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau who made a vital change to the city charter that will allow better enforcement of the city’s lodging tax.

The saying goes that two things in life are certain: death and taxes. However, some hotel owners — well, primarily one at the entrance to the city on East Main Street that continually struggles — would collect the tax from overnight guests when they paid for rooms but would not turn around and send the money to the city.

Apparently, taxes aren’t always certain.

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The money goes to the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau. Talk to Susie Petersen, the executive director, and she will sum up the agency’s mission as putting heads on beds. In other words, the CVB uses the lodging tax funds to attract people to Albert Lea, who then stay in the hotels. It’s a cycle.

Usually, Petersen has a hand in billboards you see along I-35, car shows downtown, local festivals, athletic gatherings or even booking a motor home rally at the county fairgrounds. The CVB has a role in all kinds of activities.

So when a hotel isn’t forwarding the tax revenue to the city, which then hands the money over to the CVB, that hotel is reaping the rewards of the lodging tax paid by the other hotels but not contributing. In addition, it is cheating their guests, making them pay a tax but keeping it for themselves. That’s plainly dishonest. Render unto Caeser already.

Officials had a hard time finding teeth in the Minnesota statutes to enforce the tax. The most the city could do was withhold the hotel’s liquor license — not much.

What’s more, all the other hotels who did pay the tax were unhappy with the law-breaking hotel.

The change to the charter allows the city to place the unpaid lodging tax on the statement the city issues for property taxes. And everyone knows that failure to pay property taxes  has real teeth in the state law. Don’t pay? You garner penalties and interest. Continue to not pay? You become delinquent and eventually forfeit ownership of the property. Everyone who has an iota of knowledge about how property ownership works knows about forfeiture sales.

It’s good officials saw a problem. They know the issue would fester and not be good for a competitive business climate. And they addressed it.

Taxes are not for little people, as the wealthy Leona Helmley once quipped. They are paid by honest, hard-working people. And for the dishonest, well, then that’s why we have laws to make our society function appropriately.

Good work.