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Lodging tax drops in Belmont Co.

Barb Ballint, director of the Belmont County Tourism Council, reports a decrease in lodging tax receipts but said the tourism council will continue its work.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County has seen a steep decline in lodging tax receipts due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Tourism Council Director Barb Ballint said her department will keep aiding and promoting local events despite decreased funding.

The lodging tax receipts hit an “all-time low,” declining 53 percent from first quarter 2020 and 66 percent from first quarter 2019. Ballint told county commissioners last week that hotel occupancy was impacted by the pandemic, as well as by decreased work in the oil and gas industry. A tax on people using hotels provides the tourism council’s annual funding.

According to her first quarter report Wednesday to the Belmont County Board of Commissioners, Ballint said first quarter receipts for 2019 totaled $144,517.72; in 2020, they amounted to $104,048.99; but in 2021 just $49,122.95 was collected.

“Our industry was the hardest hit by COVID. We’re just now getting back to it,” she said, adding it may take five years for lodging facilities to recover statewide. “We’re no different here in Belmont County.”

She added that the tourism council remains determined.

“We are aware of the decline, and we are prepared to make some changes if necessary. I want to assure everyone that the last thing we will change is our marketing methods, because we are at the top of our game right now, and we are bringing people to Belmont County. People know about our hidden gems that they were unaware of.”

Ballint reviewed activity during the first three months of 2021.

“It’s been a very busy first quarter, preparing for the events of the rest of the year,” she said.

Work has included preparing to distribute Grant Assistance Program funding.

“They help support the nonprofits in the area that have events and attractions that promote tourism and travel in the Belmont County area. They bring visitors from over a 100-mile radius. Every year we’re excited to be able to have those funds available,” Ballint said. “This year we had 39 grants totaling over $75,000.

“Those numbers are down, and I believe that is because we have a lot of nonprofit organizations that are just unsure of what the future held, and planning something like a community event takes a lot of time and a lot of funding, so I think they were still a little shy of what to do while planning their event.”

However, Ballint said many events are still scheduled. These include the Holloway Old Timer’s Festival and the Shadyside Loop Festival. The Ohio National Road Association also received a grant and is keeping up the job of restoring old mile markers.

Ballint is also writing tourism-related columns for The Times Leader on the first Sunday of each month.

She pointed out that the county’s three “premiere events,” the Blame My Roots Festival, the Belmont County Fair and the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival, are scheduled to go.

“We are back in action. Things are going to start happening,” she said. “We’ve got events coming up we’re so excited about. … Those three events alone bring hundreds of thousands of people to Belmont County.”

In addition, she mentioned the John Mattox Award, named in honor of the late curator of the Flushing Underground Railroad Museum and given to a person who promotes travel and tourism in Belmont County. The 2020 recipient was Ann Rattine, schoolmarm of the Great Western School. She has been associated with the school since 1976 and has been schoolmarm since 2009. A formal presentation of the award will be scheduled in the near future.

“She brings busloads of people to that small one-room schoolhouse out on the OUE campus,” Ballint said.

The Belmont County Heritage Museum is also open to visitors. Ballint is working with homeschools and local school districts, hoping to bring more visitors. She has contacted bus tour companies in the state and beyond and the museum may have more visitors when COVID restrictions are relaxed. The museum will also participate in the St. Clairsville Area Chamber of Commerce Second Saturday events by hosting historical speakers.

Upcoming events include the National Road Yard Sale June 2-6 and the National Pike Wagon Train June 5-6.

For more information, the tourism website is visitbelmontcounty.com.

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