Morgan RV Resorts Park Faces $347K Tax Bill
White County businesses and residents in north central Indiana are hoping that attempts to bolster the area’s economic lifeblood — the tourism industry — won’t stall in the wake of a large outstanding bill.
Officials discovered recently that Monticello’s most popular recreational attraction owes the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes, the Journal & Courier, Lafayette, reported.
Indiana Beach Amusement Resort, the longtime Monticello recreation spot on Lake Shafer, owes White County an estimated $347,000 in combined property and innkeeper’s taxes, according to the county’s tourism authority and treasurer.
Indiana Beach has neglected to pay an estimated $180,000 in innkeeper’s taxes, which partly go toward promoting the area’s tourism industry, and about $167,000 in 2011 property taxes.
And the financial health of its parent company, Morgan RV Resorts, has been called into question.
Morgan RV Resorts recently agreed to sell 11 of its RV communities to Sun Communities Operating Limited Partnership LLC of Michigan for $135 million. Since the deal hasn’t been finalized, it is unclear whether Morgan’s assets in Monticello are part of the agreement. The company did not return numerous calls and messages from the Journal & Courier.
Major discrepancies in the county’s books tipped off officials to the delinquent Indiana Beach tax bills from the past few years, said Joe Crivello, a board member of the White County Tourism Authority.
Indiana Beach collected $64,327 in innkeeper’s taxes in five months during 2009, according to the tourism authority, compared with $55,700 in collections during all of 2012. During several peak months from 2009 to 2012, the resort collected nothing.
The innkeeper’s tax is self-reported; counties have limited powers to enforce collection. It was increased in White County to 5% in 2011 and goes to maintaining the area’s lakes and, now, to promoting tourism. The extra tax was initially expected to generate between $80,000 and $100,000 annually.
White County leaders are taking action to collect money they believe Indiana Beach owes. Crivello said the county also is weighing how to pursue smaller private resort entities that may not be paying as much as they owe.
“White County and Monticello live or die on tourism,” Crivello said. “There are certainly some concerns that if for some reason this would shut Indiana Beach down that it would have a terrible, detrimental effect on the economy. Hopefully this will be resolved. They assured us that they would.”
Morgan RV recently paid the county $11,000 in innkeeper’s taxes, which Crivello said he believes is the first attempt to remedy the situation.
Two percent of what is raised by area resorts now goes to promoting the area by way of advertisement in publications, online and assisting at local festivals and events.
But the tourism industry, which has an estimated $70 million annual economic impact on the county, hasn’t seen the fruits of that money yet.
“It’s hard to judge at this point the impact of the tax because we didn’t get that much money in 2011 and 2012,” County Commissioner John Heimlich said. “The question has come up about compliance and how we make sure everybody pays their fair share.
“I don’t want to get into specific businesses, but there’s some you can look at and kind of doubt whether the full amount has been reported.”
But Heimlich is confident that Indiana Beach will settle its tax debt.
“I would assume it’ll get worked out,” he said.
Tourism authority board member John Million said the county is taking several steps to collect the money.
The White County attorney will request money from Indiana Beach’s parent company, and officials have requested a lien on the property for the unpaid innkeeper’s tax, he said.
“We’re trying to promote tourism in the county,” Million said. “The funding we receive is from the innkeeper’s tax. We’re kind of at the mercy of the merchants and local resort owners.”
Jeff Bonnell, who co-owns Pine View Resort, which is near Indiana Beach, said the resorts in the area should recognize that while they are competitors, the tax goes toward areawide benefits.
“Without all of this money, a lot of these projects are stopped or delayed,” Bonnell said. “It kind of stalls our efforts that we were counting on. It’s somewhat hurting everybody. The more funding we can get, the more we can do.”