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Tax board hears about short-term rentals

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Stephanie Mervine has joined the city of Roswell’s Public Affairs Office to develop and coordinate special events. She also will help staff the City of Roswell Occupancy Tax Board, which handles lodgers’ tax funding requests. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The city of Roswell is working to introduce city regulations, processes and forms necessary for smaller short-term rentals to pay lodgers’ taxes.

Effective Jan. 1, the state lodgers’ tax law has changed so that even those private properties that rent one, two or three rooms to visitors for money will have to pay 5% of their gross receipts tax collections to the city on a monthly basis.

Previously New Mexico state law exempted smaller properties, which often rent through AirBnB, HomeAway, VRBO or other such websites. But Senate Bill 106, signed into law in February 2019, eliminated Exemption G that waived lodgers’ tax for proprietors with less than three rooms.

“We are really going to look to (the Occupancy Tax Board) to help craft and provide discussions and recommendations on the processes,” Director of Public Affairs Juanita Jennings told members of the local Occupancy Tax Board Tuesday afternoon.

During the same meeting Jennings introduced a new city staff member, Stephanie Mervine, to serve as a staff coordinator for the Occupancy Tax Board and also as a recruiter and coordinator for special events for the city.

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New tax process

Jennings said that she and City Councilor Judy Stubbs plan to attend a Trends Conference by the New Mexico Tourism Department the first week of February where the topic of lodgers’ taxes for short-term rentals is expected to be discussed at length.

“We don’t have a ton right now. We have about 55,” Jennings said. “But communities like Ruidoso have 1,200. So we want to set ourselves up, so that if we were to have a lot more that they are following the same procedures and guidelines as hotels do.”

In general, she said, it is expected that short-term rentals will self-report, as hotels do, turning in lodgers’ tax forms, along with taxes due, on the 25th of the month for the business that occurred the month before.

Jennings said that city staff want to eliminate red tape and complications to create a “really good system and process to make it easy” for proprietors to comply and pay the taxes.

She and Mervine also talked about the city’s decision to subscribe to the STAR report, which will provide specific data about what types of people are staying in hotels, motels or short-term rentals. For example, the report will tell the city whether visitors are here for leisure or business.

The city expects the data will be used to create marketing campaigns to boost the customer base for lodging properties.

“We want to set up so that maybe we do a campaign that maybe targets those individuals who are looking for AirBnBs,” Jennings said.

Mervine added that some event groups specifically market to that type of visitor, so the data can help with recruiting events to the city.

Jennings said that short-term rentals can be vital during peak tourist times such as the annual UFO Festival and Memorial Day weekend when hotels and motels are overbooked.

“We won’t have to push (visitors) so far out,” Jennings said. “They can stay within our community.”

The Occupancy Tax Board chair expressed his support for the law change.

“I am all for it,” said Jim Fielding. “I think really and truly they should report for it. That is only fair. The hotels do.”

Mervine to fill ‘expanded’ role

The city is planning to expand its efforts to bring new special events into the city that will provide a better return on investment, Jennings said.

The new staff member, Stephanie Mervine, will be heading up that work. She also will oversee the lodgers’ tax applications.

Jennings said that, when the tourism and events manager left, the city decided to move forward with its plans to split the duties among different positions.

Mervine will oversee a Visitors Center Supervisor, but she will have her office in City Hall. Her responsibilities will include using lodgers’ tax revenues to attract different types of events to the city, Jennings said.

“The current events are not bringing in the return on investment that the city would like to see so we are going to take it upon ourselves — as other municipalities do — and go hunt and search for those events to come to our city,” Jennings said.

She added that the split of the Recreation and Parks Department upon the opening of the Recreation and Aquatics Center has presented additional needs for special event support in other departments. Meanwhile, the staff positions in the Visitors Center have changed as well, including an added emphasis on sales and marketing.

Mervine has arrived in Roswell from Maryland, having been the tourism manager for Wicomico County. She also has worked as a hotel general manager and sales director. Both positions required familiarity with lodgers’ taxes.

“I am just excited about being here and doing what I can for you in bringing things to the next level and (improving) Roswell in different ways,” Mervine said.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.