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County wants motel to pay up

The owner of the Days Inn motel at State Road 50 and Interstate 75 is in hot water with the county over late payments on tourist taxes.

County officials are expected to file a lien against the motel, which owes $1,200 in penalties and interest from delayed payments on the taxes.

Members of the county's Tourist Development Council, which uses tourism tax dollars to promote tourism, have been frustrated at the motel owner's delayed payments.

"We've been talking with him for weeks," said County Commissioner June Ester, chairwoman of the tourist council.

A 2 percent tourist tax is levied on all hotel, motel and short-term room rentals.

The Days Inn motel is owned by Marion County resident Bhoopendra Mowji, who also owes $6,805 in tangible taxes to the Hernando County Tax Collector's Office. Mowji could not be reached for comment Thursday or Friday.

The county froze Mowji's bank account in November and again in June after he failed to pay $6,700 in tourist taxes from February, March and April. Mowji recently paid the $6,700, but still owes $1,200 in interest and penalties from late payments.

Michael Lanterman, Hernando County audit services director, said state law prohibited him from discussing pending lien actions.

Since February 1993, when the county began levying the 2 percent tourism tax, the county has collected about $410,000 from hotels, motels and other short-term rentals. Payments are generally made on a monthly basis.

"We've had very, very few that have not paid on time," Lanterman said. "This isn't their (hotel/motel owners') money. It belongs to the county. They collect it on behalf of the county. It's not additional capital that they are collecting to use for overhead."

The trouble with the county is not the only problem the I-75 Days Inn has had.

In October, the Florida Department of Revenue filed a $27,000 lien against the motel for unpaid sales tax. In June, Days Inn of America sued Mowji, saying the motel owed $134,926 in franchise fees and didn't maintain proper quality standards.