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Published: Friday, 1/9/2004

Put-in-Bay challenges Uncle Sam and wins

PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio - Put-in-Bay fought the federal government and won.

The issue was over the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau count of seasonal housing for the island community.

Too few summer homes would have ended the collection of the resort tax. The 1.5 percent tax on gross receipts provided a $388,888 shot in the fiscal arm of the village of 128 permanent residents last year.

State law allows collection of a resort tax on gross receipts if at least 62 percent of a community s housing is used for seasonal, occasional, or recreational use.

Clerk-Treasurer Kelly Faris said yesterday the village knew when the report was released that the 58 percent figure was too low, and filed an immediate challenge.

“It was pretty evident they made a mistake,” Mr. Faris said.

The village imposed a 1 percent resort tax in the mid 1990s and increased it a half-percent in 1999 to help pay for services and higher costs the village incurs when as many as 15,000 visitors land on South Bass Island each summer weekend.

In October, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of that tax, which was challenged by a local business.

The recount cost Put-in-Bay $12,928, a figure Mr. Faris called “an investment for the village.”

The new count, conducted in August, found 74.5 percent of the housing in Put-in-Bay was for seasonal use, he said.

Collection of the tax, which is distributed by the state, continued during the dispute. Mr. Faris said state officials agreed the first Census Bureau count appeared to be too low.

Losing the tax would have left a big hole in the village s $1.6 million annual budget, which supports eight full-time employees and 80 to 85 seasonal workers.

The village receives $14,340 a year, representing 50 percent of the bed tax that Ottawa County collected last year, and $333,000 for fees from the public docks, Mr. Faris said. The increase in the number of docking facilities elsewhere has led to a drop in fees the village collects, he said.

Bill Massie, a fishing guide who served 27 years on council before losing in the November election, said loss of the tax would have been a major blow.

Mr. Massie said the additional funds the tax provides is “appreciated by everyone” on the island.

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