City officials are trying to determine what to do with tax revenue generated from hotels for the purpose of tourism promotion that was earmarked for a tourism commission that never became active.
The council voted last year to withdraw from a joint city/county tourism commission and start one solely for the city. The city’s new ordinance took effect Feb. 1, and a 3 percent transient room tax was imposed. Until this week, hotels in the city limits were expected to charge a 6 percent tax, with 3 percent going to the city’s new tourism commission and 3 percent going to a separate county commission.
The city’s decision to dissolve the joint commission was received with an overall lack of enthusiasm. Mayor Pam Hoots appointed seven members to serve on the commission’s board of directors, but the board failed to have full attendance and was never able to appoint leadership due to lack of attendance. At the same time, the fiscal court approved a county-only commission, which in turn hired Paige Nickel as director.
In April, council member Dr. Ronald Rogers recommended that the decision to withdraw from the joint tourism board be reconsidered, calling it a knee-jerk decision following concerns of a disparity on how funds benefited the city compared to county tourism.
Other council members joined Rogers in the call to reunite the city/county tourism group, and attorneys for both bodies to begin working on the needed paperwork to revive a joint board.
On Tuesday, during the city council’s regular monthly meeting, Mayor Hoots asked the council to vote to approve a dissolution of the city’s tourism commission, but stopped short of agreeing to form a joint commission with the county. Instead, she wanted to ask County Judge Executive Larry Russell Bryant to agree to appoint two members to the county board who live in the city limits. City council members were having none of it.
Hannah Peck, who is serving her first year as a council member, questioned why the council would not want a more formal structure that insured the city’s participation in the tourism board. Peck was serving on the board for the joint commission when it was dissolved and agreed to serve on the city’s newly formed commission.
The original joint commission included three board positions that were appointed by the city council. Rhonda Loy questioned why the city would not want to continue with that structure in the future.
“Why did we start this whole process anyway if we are reverting back with less than we had to begin with?” she questioned.
The council voted Tuesday to dissolve the new city tourism commission immediately and contact hotels to let them know they should no longer collect the tax. They agreed to continue with developing an ordinance that establishes a joint city/county commission.
Attorney Mike Harris agreed to research how to legally distribute the funds that have already been collected. Hoots has recommended that it be returned to the hotel where it was collected, but since it was a tax imposed on people who stayed in those facilities, there are legal questions on what should happen to it.
Also during Tuesday’s council meeting:
– The council approved second reading to set the property tax rate at .203 cents.
– Voted to apply for a USDA grant that will pay 15 percent toward the cost of a new garbage truck.
– Approved first reading of an ordinance to increase pay to city firefighters from $25 to $30 per run within the city limits effective Dec. 1.
– Approve a contract for SROs that includes a 5 percent pay increase.
– Heard from Mary Ann Loy, who is serving on a committee making recommendation for the new city park on Burkesville St., called Citizens Park. Loy said her group recommends that no buildings be constructed nor other projects be carried out until a long-term plan is developed so that the work completed is cohesive and fitting for the property. Loy said the park is usable as it is now, with a walking trail and a dog park
– The city council heard from a resident who complained about property on Guardian St. that violates the city’s nuisance ordinance. The citizen is one in a string of residents who have attended council meetings recently concerning unkempt property and questioned the effectiveness of the city’s nuisance ordinance.
– During mayor’s comments, Hoots received approval to provide a property tax abatement for two years for Zaxby’s. The new restaurant expects to hire 50 people, Hoots said. The city’s ordinance allows for a two-year tax forgiveness for a new business that hires at least five people who work at least 35 hours a week.
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