OAK HILL — A divided Oak Hill city council approved the first reading Monday evening of a much-debated increase in the hotel-motel tax from three to six percent.

In a virtual game of musical council chairs, council member Anna Holt presided as mayor in Barbara Hickman’s absence, thereby preventing her from voting. Council passed Bruce Coleman’s motion over vocal opposition from Jeff Atha and Bill Hannabass.

“I’m not totally opposed to it, if you can show me where it’s earmarked,” Hannabass declared, referring to the fact that such revenues are required by statute to fund tourism or recreational development activities.

“I’m concerned about money from this being put into tourism and then taking the same amount of money out the back door. It concerns me that we would consider this without a hard project in mind that would benefit the tourism industry. At this point, I can’t be for it.”

City manager Tom Oxley suggested that state legislators be pressured to compel counties, rather than cities, to impose such taxes.

“I think it’s a misconception that everyone who rents a hotel room is a wealthy tourist,” Hannabass continued. “I would rather see someone spend that money in an Oak Hill business rather than it going to a government entity.”

Oxley added that the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce and New River Convention and Visitors Bureau fully support the hike. Oak Hill’s only two motels, Holiday Inn and New River Inn, would be the only businesses directly affected by the vote, along with their occupants.

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In a more unified spirit, council members unanimously agreed with Coleman’s move to table the second reading of a proposed all-terrain vehicle (ATV) ordinance until next month’s meeting while they consider what penalties would apply to such scofflaws.

While such vehicles are already banned on city streets, the measure passed on first reading in June would ban all motorized vehicles from the White Oak Rails-to-Trails — with the exceptions of emergency vehicles and maintenance vehicles.

“We need to collaborate with Fayette County itself on this,” said Oxley, noting that five miles of the trail fall outside city limits.

“The penalties for violations should be the same. We should recommend to the city attorney some penalties. There should be continuity between Fayette County and Oak Hill.”

City attorney Brian Parsons suggested the use of cameras as an enforcement mechanism.

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In other business, council members:

-- Heard Dianna Smallwood announce that her appointment to the Fayette County Democratic Executive Committee will cease. That will be followed up by an opinion letter that Parsons will issue on a proposal to amend the city’s charter.

According to the Oak Hill charter, no city council member or mayor may sit on any other political body. Oxley explained that the state Ethics Commission had previously given Smallwood the green light to sit on the committee without knowing that Oak Hill’s charter prohibits such a move.

-- All agreed to approve the reconfiguration of the city’s ward structure to two wards.

-- Turned down a request for a video lottery license to a site at 106 Pacwood Dr., due to its close proximity to a school and residences. On June 28, the Planning and Zoning Commission denied the request, and council followed suit.

-- Listened as Oxley said that he will call a Cebridge Connections representative, Mike Keleman, to attend the August council meeting and provide input on a proposed cable franchise fee increase.

-- Learned of a letter sent to Hickman from Fayette County Chamber of Commerce president Sharon Cruikshank asking that the city allow the chamber to acquire the property where its headquarters sits.

Parsons agreed to draft documents to that effect, while providing a right-of-way for Oak Hill police who hope to build a new police station adjacent to the property.

— E-mail:mhill@register-herald.com

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