PRINCETON — The Mercer County Commission this week approved recommendations to form a Hotel/Motel Fund Advisory Committee. The move comes following recent controversy that revealed hotel/motel tax funds were being misappropriated by the commission.

Jamie Null, executive director of the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau, proposed a list of committee members that includes herself; Robert Farley, Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce President; Josh Cline, President and CEO of the Bluefield Chamber of Commerce; Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau Board Members Laura Gooch and Skip Crane; and Kim Bowman Smith, General Manager of the Quality Hotel and Conference Centre in Bluefield. 

Null said the committee’s precise role and their method for processing funding requests needs to be fleshed out, but Commissioner Greg Puckett said he expects the procedure to be “fairly seamless.”

Commissioner Bill Archer supported the advisory committee idea, but stressed that refining the funding application process is crucial and disbursement of funds is “ultimately still [the commission’s] decision.”

Commission President Gene Buckner emphasized that recipients of funds must report their expenditures.

“We need to be responsible with what we’re doing with people’s money in this county,” he said.

Concerns about the disbursement of grants came to light following a report from the MCCVB showing that $307,562.19 of the $728,237.98 hotel/motel tax revenue from last year was misdirected. A visit from MCCVB Attorney Brian Helmick in June alerted commissioners to the ‘heads-in-beds’ types of projects and organizations that are eligible for hotel-motel revenues according to state code. Those include promotion of conventions, beautification projects, limited medical and emergency services, promotion of the arts, projects related to historic sites, payments of principal and/or interest on revenue bonds to build facilities, support and operation of the Hatfield-McCoy Recreation Area, passenger air service to tourism spots, expenses related to publicly owned convention facilities, and expenses related to public parks and recreation facilities.

At this week’s meeting, commissioners expressed concern that money in the video lottery fund is quickly diminishing as they await the formation of the committee to help determine which requests are eligible to receive hotel/motel funds. Null said plans are already underway for the advisery committee to meet before the end of the month.

— Contact Jeanie Brown at jbrown@ptonline.net

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