LNP appeals ruling on release of hotel tax data
BY CINDY STAUFFER, Staff Writer
Lancaster Newspapers Inc. is filing an appeal of a judge's recent decision that Lancaster County does not have to release the amount of room and excise taxes paid by local hotel operators.
The newspaper company, publisher of the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era and the Sunday News, had asked for access to the records, saying they are public information crucial to determining financial support for the Lancaster County Convention Center and the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The county treasurer has refused to release the data.
The hotel operators, who have 17 properties here, argue that the data amounts to trade secrets.
Lancaster County Judge Joseph C. Madenspacher ruled last week that the county must identify only the names and addresses of the businesses that make the payments.
The ruling reversed a year-old state Office of Open Records "final determination" order that individual tax receipts had to be released.
Robert M. Krasne, Lancaster Newspapers publisher, company president and board vice chairman, said the company feels compelled to appeal Madenspacher's decision.
"It's an important open-records issue," he said, "because the court should not sanction hiding behind false claims of confidentiality and trade secrets."
Hotel corporations already release that type of financial data in the normal course of business, he said.
Lancaster Newspapers will file motions explaining why it believes Madenspacher is incorrect. If that appeal fails, the next step would be an appeal to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
Hotel operators are supposed to fill out monthly forms reporting hotel and excise tax payments.
The 1.1 percent excise tax goes to the visitors bureau. Eighty percent of the 3.9 percent hotel tax goes to the convention center, and the visitors bureau gets the rest, unless the convention center's reserves fall below lender-required levels.
Lancaster Newspapers reporter Gil Smart filed a Right-to-Know request in February 2012 to try to find out if the hotels were paying their share of taxes.
County treasurer Craig Ebersole refused to disclose either payment or occupancy information about the hotels.
In 2012 and this year, the county has filed six lawsuits against hotel operators for nonpayment of taxes.
The publicly owned convention center is in Penn Square, adjacent to the Marriott Hotel, which was developed by the private Penn Square Partners. The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster owns the hotel and leases it to the partners.
Penn Square Partners consists of Penn Square General Corp., an affiliate of the High companies, and Penn Square Ltd. LLC, an affiliate of Lancaster Newspapers Inc.