Sarnia approves accommodation tax

A room at Insignia in Sarnia. October, 2019 Blackburn Radio photo.

Guests staying at Sarnia’s hotels and motels will be paying a four per cent tax on accommodations starting January 1.

Sarnia council, followed the Village of Point Edward’s lead, by implementing a municipal accommodation tax (MAT) on Monday.

Councillor Mike Stark supported the move in a 6-3 recorded vote.

“The fact that this tax is across the board, I don’t think that we are mistreating our visitors in the sense that no matter where they stay, they’re going to pay this tax,” said Stark.

Councillor Terry Burrell opposed it, saying it goes against the idea of “no taxation without representation.”

“Most of the taxes we pay, we’re represented by people who charge it,” said Burrell. “For example, the HST [Harmonized Sales Tax] that we pay, it’s set by the federal and provincial organizations and we get a vote towards the provincial and federal parliament.”

Councillor Bill Dennis voted against it because he didn’t think it was very “hospitable.”

“Most of Sarnia’s hotels are boutique hotels, not big chains,” said Dennis. “They are local ‘mom’ and ‘pop’ operations who can’t afford to be financially disadvantaged. These people are feeding families through their businesses, they’re not on a salary. The Point Edward hotels, by comparison, are all large international or nationally owned chains. I visited and spoke with our local market and they’re overwhelmingly against this tax.”

Councillor Margaret Bird also voted against the tax.

In the meantime, Lambton Shores Council wants more information before making a decision.

Staff in that municipality, which includes the Lake Huron resort community Grand Bend, have been asked to prepare a report outlining the opportunities and challenges of implementing the tax.

The user-based MAT fee is applied to all accommodations where people stay for less than 30 days, including Airbnb’s and cottage rentals.

If the tax is implemented countywide, Tourism Sarnia-Lambton said it could possibly bring in $1.2 million dollars annually at a 50 per cent occupancy average of $110 a night.