The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

October 12, 2012

Tourism spending up in Wapello County

Sales tax revenue decreases property tax, promotes activities

OTTUMWA — Visitors doled out more dollars in Wapello County last year, which snowballed into job creation and increased sales tax revenue.

According to a report released by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, visitors to Wapello County spent $75.28 million last year, up $6.68 million from 2010. Overall, visitors spent nearly $7.3 billion statewide in 2011.

Those dollars directly generated 560 jobs with a payroll income of $9.44 million in the county, as well as $3.75 million in state tax revenue and $930,000 in local tax revenue, according to the report.

Wapello County also ranked higher than its surrounding counties in terms of travel-related revenue, placing 18th out of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Polk County took the top seat with more than $1.6 billion generated, while Adams County sank to the bottom with $2.61 million generated.

“I have to give credit where credit is due, and I think it’s a recovering economy,” said Mark Eckman, director of the Ottumwa Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “We’re seeing some good signs as far as more travel, both in terms of leisure and corporate. We’re not quite out of the hole the recession created ... but this is a sign that things are coming back around. It’s a matter of people having more discretionary income.”

While the majority of that money was likely spent at hotels, restaurants and attractions, Wapello County Supervisor Jerry Parker pointed out the county benefits from the sales tax generated from that money.

“When tourism goes up, they spend more dollars in the community, and even though it doesn’t go directly to the county or city, the sales tax dollars do,” he said.

The county receives around $1.3 million a year in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) dollars, Parker said.

Finance Director Bob Jay said $3.1 million has been budgeted this year from LOST toward the city of Ottumwa.

“Last year, we received $3.06 million from LOST,” Jay said. “That pays for Bridge View bonds, sewer bond, the Expanded Street Repair Program and miscellaneous sewer work.”

The city also generates revenue from its 7 percent hotel/motel tax. Last year, Ottumwa generated $318,837 from the tax. LOST does not apply to the hotel/motel tax.

“So for every $100 hotel room, $7 comes back into the city,” Jay said. “We use part of it to fund the operating subsidy for Bridge View. Part goes toward paying for parks and recreation, and it also supports the convention and visitors bureau.”

The American Gothic House Center in Eldon is likely the No. 1 attraction in Wapello County, Parker said.

“Busloads of people go there, but that’s not going to be their only stop in Wapello County,” he said. “If we get them here, they will go to more than one place.”

Tourism dollars are turned around to create even more activities to attract visitors to the county, he said.

In rural Wapello County, 25 percent of sales tax revenue goes toward property tax relief.

“When we reduce the property tax of people in rural areas, it frees up more money,” Parker said. “The average person doesn’t go take that savings and put it in the bank — they spend it. And that creates another circle of opportunity.”

The $75 million spent in Wapello County is outstanding, Parker said, but the benefit to the county is many times that.

The recent addition of Brian Chambers as media coordinator for the American Gothic House Center and the CVB means activities and attractions are being promoted better than they have been in the past, he said.

“A lot of people right here in Iowa are not traveling to Washington, D.C., to California, to Texas,” Parker said. “They’re looking for things at home worthy of their time. Since we’re doing a better job of promoting this, they’re waking up to the fact that hey, there are things to do right in our backyard.”

Instead of weeklong vacations across the country, families are now taking four to five weekend mini-vacations.

“The economy is keeping people close to home,” Parker said. “Sometimes you have a gold mine right in your backyard, and you don’t know it ’cause you’re going to see the Grand Tetons.”

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