“Dysart dares to be different,” said township mayor Murray Fearrey, shortly after he and his council endorsed an adjusted municipal accommodation tax (MAT) April 23.

That was in response to Scott Ovell, the County’s director of economic development and tourism, who brought Dysart council up to speed on the MAT tax and its potential benefits at council’s monthly meeting.

While Algonquin Highlands, Highlands East and Minden Hills have supported the new bylaw at a four per cent tax rate, Dysart has opted to introduce it at two per cent.

“You’ve done a lot of work on this, and I sincerely appreciate it. I supported it at the start, but I’m starting to think now… I just don’t know how much tax we want to pile onto people,” Fearrey said, proposing the reduced rate.

Ovell said council was within its right to adopt whatever rate it deems fit. Of the 30 or so municipalities in Ontario to embrace a MAT, most have done so at four per cent, Ovell said. He noted the City of Niagara Falls introduced a two per cent MAT in 2022.

The County director had estimated the MAT could boost municipal coffers County-wide by more than $2 million per year at a four per cent rate. He noted at least 50 per cent of revenues must be allocated to eligible non-profit tourism operators. The County is investigating setting up a municipal services corporation (MSC) to handle those funds.

Townships would be free to utilize the remaining 50 per cent where they want, Ovell said.

Referencing data from the Ministry of Tourism, collected via short-term rental operators like Airbnb and Vrbo, Ovell said there were more than 150,000 nightly stays in the County in 2023 – up more than 90 per cent from 2019. Fearrey felt those numbers represented peak STR usage in the Highlands and that revenues would be down for most operators this year.

Coun. Pat Casey agreed with Fearrey.

“Everyone’s discretionary income is slowly getting eroded and we don’t want to kill the entrepreneurial spirit of someone making a dollar,” Casey said, noting that money is often reinvested into the community via cottage renovations and downtown shopping.

The MAT is expected to begin Oct. 1. It will be handled by Granicus, an international firm specializing in digital communications and government services, which will also oversee the County’s short-term rental bylaw.