A look at lodging tax rates around the Southeastern Conference

At last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Bob McDavid set the gears in motion for a lodging tax rate increase from Columbia’s current 4 percent up to 7 percent. McDavid pointed out what he perceives as drastic shortcomings at the Columbia Regional Airport before discussing the lodging tax, saying that the airport would be up-to-date — if it were 1969. Though the report only suggests using the increased revenue to pay for terminal additions, in consecutive council meetings McDavid has been quick to point out the need for improvements at the airport to attract more flights and business — a conversation that has been going on for the better part of a decade.

City Manager Mike Matthes is also on board to increase the services available at Columbia Regional Airport, which has seen a 250 percent increase in departing traffic and a 246 percent increase in incoming traffic annually since 2008, according to figures from its website. During an interview on KBIA’s weekly “Intersection” program, Matthes said he’d like to see the city add a connecting destinations from the airport in addition to its current flights to Memphis soon.

“I’d love to say it’s going to happen this summer, so I will,” Matthes said in response on the program to a question about new flights. “… That’s what we’re shooting for. I think all the tumblers are in place. We just have to, you know, make it happen.”

Assistant Manager Tony St. Romaine confirmed that Dallas and Chicago are on the table as possible destinations for connecting flights out of Columbia.

The staff report included tax rates for multiple Missouri cities and a national average of 13 percent, but failed to mention how Columbia would stack up to other SEC cities. With Tiger fans traveling to locales such as Gainesville, Fla.; Knoxville, Tenn.; as well as that other Columbia in South Carolina, and with fans flowing in from the universities of Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky this year, the proposed lodging tax rate would make Columbia competitive with several cities in the SEC. Athens, Ga.; Auburn, Ala.; and College Station, Texas all have lodging tax rates of 7 percent, and Baton Rouge, La. and Tuscaloosa, Ala. both have rates much higher than that.

Here’s a list, in descending order, of lodging tax rates in each of the cities the 14 members of the expanded SEC (to be unveiled July 1) call home.

Town (University) Population*; Lodging tax rate

  1. Baton Rogue, La. (Louisiana State University) 229,493; 13 percent
  2. Tuscaloosa, Ala. (University of Alabama) 90,468; 10 percent + $1 per room per night
  3. Athens, Ga. (University of Georgia) 115,452; 7 percent
    Auburn, Ala. (Auburn University) 53,380; 7 percent
    College Station, Texas (Texas A&M University) 93,857; 7 percent
  4. Nashville, Tenn. (Vanderbilt University) 601,222; 6 percent + a $2.50 per room per night charge to fund convention center
  5. Lexington, Ky. (University of Kentucky) 295,803; 6 percent
  6. Gainesville, Fla. (University of Florida) 124,354; 5 percent
  7. Columbia, Mo. (University of Missouri) 108,500; 4 percent (proposed increase to 7 percent)
  8. Columbia, S.C. (University of South Carolina) 129,272; 3 percent
    Knoxville, Tenn. (University of Tennessee) 178,874; 3 percent
  9. Fayetteville, Ark. (University of Arkansas) 73,580; 2 percent
    Starkville, Miss. (Mississippi State University) 23,888; 2 percent
    Oxford, Miss. (University of Mississippi) 18,916; 2 percent

* Population estimates based on 2010 Census figures

Not everyone is in favor of the proposed tax increase, however. Last week, the Columbia Hospitality Association issued a news release arguing against such a substantial increase in the lodging tax. The president of that association, Jevon Jerke, said, “When you raise the rate, even just a few dollars, it really changes how you’re perceived out there.”

What do you think? Should Columbia put 7 on the board to keep up with their new SEC rivals?

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