Mercer County Commission

PRINCETON — Organizers of festivals and other events bringing visitors to the area often seek local grant money, so the Mercer County is asking the tourism industry for advice about which festivities should get hotel/motel tax funding.

Mercer County has a hotel/motel tax that helps generate the money needed for promoting local tourism. In November, the Mercer County Commission estimated during its regular meeting that the tax had collected more than $815,000 through Oct. 29, and could reach $1 million by the end of 2019. This would amount to about $500,000 for the county and $500,000 for the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) through the 6 percent lodging tax.

For about two years, there has been a debate between the county commission and the local tourism industry about how the hotel/motel tax’s revenue should be spent. Some of the money was slated for the Mercer County Airport and the county’s libraries, raising the question about whether such expenditures promoted tourism. Later, the county commissioners proposed forming an advisory committee to review applications for tourism money and make recommendations to the commission.

County Commission President Gene Buckner said during the commission’s December meeting that the advisory committee would have representatives from the hotel/motel industry and the ATV industry. The goal is to have members from hotels and ATV lodges in the Princeton area and the Bluefield area. These are the businesses that offer beds to visitors, and they are the ones who pay the hotel/motel tax.

Jamie Null, executive director of the Mercer County CVB, has agreed to reach out to people in the hotel/motel business and see if they are willing to form a committee that would review grant applications submitted by festival organizers and others requesting county funds.

“We’ve been in talks with several of the hotels that have an investment in tourism and in hotel/motel tax grants,” Null said later. “We’ll probably know more after the holidays.”

Formal discussions about what criteria the committee would use when recommending which applicants will receive hotel/motel tax money should take place after the first of the year, Null said.

A member of the public asked Buckner at the December meeting if the advisory committee would decide who receives grants, and he replied that the committee’s members will make recommendations. The county commission will make the final decision.

The county commission will give a new advisory committee a trial period once it’s formed.

“We’re going to give it 90 days,” Buckner stated, adding the commission will go back to its former procedure – making grant decisions without recommendations from a committee – if the idea does not work out.

Mercer County’s tourism industry keeps growing along with the Hatfield-McCoy ATV Trail. Next year, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail will celebrate its 20th anniversary in southern West Virginia. Pickup trucks hauling trailers loaded with ATVs have become a common sight throughout the region.

Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority, said the system opened almost 20 years ago with about 300 miles of trails in Logan and Mingo Counties. Today it operates over 700 miles of ATV trails in Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, McDowell and Mercer Counties. Two new trail systems, one in Wayne County and another in Lincoln County, will open in the spring of 2020, bringing the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system to over 800 miles of trails in seven counties.

The Hatfield-McCoy Trail sold almost 5,000 rider permits when it opened. This year, the trail authority expects to sell almost 55,000 permits, Lusk said.

“The whole idea of this system was to grow the economy and it’s bringing in more than 55,000 people. That’s really helping the economies in these small towns,” he said.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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