A resolution urging the Tennessee General Assembly to expand Sullivan County’s ability to collect hotel occupancy taxes was withdrawn by its sponsor as soon as it was time for the Sullivan County Commission to discuss it Thursday night.
Tennessee law prohibits counties from levying occupancy taxes on hotels within cities that already have their own occupancy taxes. The cities of Bristol and Kingsport both have such a tax, of 5% and 7%, respectively.
Resolution No. 2020-11-99 would have urged the state government to pass a private act that would have exempted Sullivan County from that restriction.
Kingsport Commissioner Angie Stanley had introduced the resolution to the county commission last November, saying its goal was to raise county revenue without burdening property owners with more taxes.
The resolution raised multiple questions from other commissioners, particularly about its implications for Bristol and Kingsport. It was tabled for a while before reappearing on the commission’s agenda for Thursday’s meeting.
But a week earlier, on Feb. 11, Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, and State Rep. Timothy Hicks, R-Gray, filed identical bills about the hotel occupancy tax in their respective chambers. Both bills sought to create that private act, but for Washington as well as Sullivan County.
No state representatives for Sullivan County had co-sponsored either state bill. At least two of them, Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport, said they had been largely in the dark about both bills, which they said went against the usual legislative process.
“Most of the time, when you do a private act, there should be [a state representative from] within that county who is carrying that legislation,” Crawford said.
“I am disappointed that I was not made aware of this until the legislation was filed,” said Lundberg, who added that a bill being filed about his county being without his knowledge represented a “breach of protocol that occurred in communications between the Sullivan County mayor, the Washington County mayor and Sen. Crowe.”
Stanley, who said she worked on the commission resolution with Venable, withdrew the resolution before it could officially be discussed on the agenda. Venable, for his part, said Lundberg was “exactly right” to be upset and that he had “apologized profusely” to Lundberg in a recent conversation.
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