BECKET — After a public forum on a proposal to add a local 6 percent room tax on all short-term rentals, town officials are considering a change to the proposed article for the town meeting warrant.
According to Katherine Warden, Becket town administrator, there will be consideration of removing the focus of the room tax from funding for roadwork and simply using it as part of the town’s general revenue fund.
“The Select Board is meeting next week, and it’s expected to talk about taking the emphasis off roads as a use for the room tax revenue, and put the emphasis on general revenue,” Warden said. “We might use it to promote Becket — most of our visitors are here to appreciate the natural environment we have in Becket. It’s definitely something we need to focus on, promoting economic growth.”
The public forum on Saturday afternoon was called to discuss a proposal to tax short term rentals at 6 percent, which officials estimated would raise between $60,000 and $100,000 per year. The proposal called for the new revenue to target road repairs in town.
Dan Parnell, chairman of the town finance committee, noted that the state only provides $236,000 yearly for roadwork. Becket is responsible for the maintenance of 57 miles of roadway. Warden noted that one mile of asphalt roadway costs about $1 million.
Town officials noted that the owners would not be paying the tax, their guests would. So, the additional tax would not add to the owners’ expenses. There are 79 short-term rentals in Becket registered with the state.
Officials said that 250 of the 351 municipalities in the state have similar room taxes, as do several of the towns bordering Becket. They also pointed out that short-term rental guests use town services, and that it is fair to seek recompense for those services.
“We have some real needs on our roads,” Parnell said. “And we’re between a rock and a hard place to find additional revenue.”
With roughly 40 people in attendance, some who own local motels and others who host Airbnb-type rentals, the idea of a 6 percent room tax did not seem very popular. And the idea of using the money for roads was also contested.
One attendee said he already pays for road work through his property taxes, and didn’t think he should pay more. Others agreed with his assessment.
“The roads are not used that much more, and I don’t think my guests should have to pay for something when I have already paid for it,” he said.
Others objected to a small subset of small businesses in town being targeted to pay for road repairs, saying it should be the responsibility of the entire town.
“That’s not equitable,” said one attendee.
“My guests already pay gas tax and sales taxes in town and we’re lucky to have them,” added another. “And this additional expense may drive them away from Becket.”
Two days after the meeting, Warden said it went well, and that it is rare for a town to seek public input on a proposal still working its way through town committees.
“It brought out a lot of people to talk about the town,” she said. “That’s what democracy is all about. And it showed that we can still talk without getting super angry [or] nasty.”