The December 3rd city council meeting began with the usual items and motions and general housekeeping. The concern on the minds of most of the people I talked to prior to the meeting was the “missing” city funds. But that would come later, and not without some controversy.
CPA Paul Thomas who works for Gayla Fullerton and audited the chamber of commerce said that, in his opinion, the chamber is tightly run. A 100% audit was conducted with 100% of the receipts. He said that the hotel-motel tax, in his opinion, was being spent property. Thomas did offer 3 recommendations; Operate under a budget; keep track of membership and merge software into one program to help eliminate any confusion and that the city should adopt a written policy on the suggestions and implement them. Thomas offered that the chamber is “extremely active.” Councilman Bob McDaniel said that he’d like to see the chamber keep track of “heads in beds,” to see how many people are actually staying in the hotels in town. City administrator Tommy Turney is accepting bids on proposals for study on increasing the visitation to the town. Councilman Rick Morrish pointed out that state law was very specific on what the hotel-motel tax can be spent on. Morrish also sits on the hotel-motel board so is the most familiar with the laws.
In Texas, Under state law, the revenue for the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) may be used only to directly promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry.
Chapter 351 of the Tax Code states that the use of HOT funds is limited to:
Criteria One –
Every expenditure must directly enhance and promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry in the town.
Every expenditure must clearly fit into one of the six statutorily provided categories for expenditures of local HOT revenues.
Listed below is a synopsis of said categories. Official wording can be found in Chapter351 of the Tax Code (Municipal Hotel Occupancy Tax).
• Convention and Visitor Information Centers:
The acquisition of sites for and the construction, improvement, enlarging, equipping, repairing, operation and maintenance of convention center facilities or visitor
information centers or both.
• Registration of Convention Delegates; The furnishing of facilities, personnel and materials for the registration of convention delegates of registrants.
• Advertising and conducting solicitations and promotional programs to attract tourists and convention delegates of registrants to the municipality or its vicinity.
• Promotion of the arts: Includes instrumental and vocal music, dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture, design, painting, sculpture,
Photography, graphic and craft arts, motion pictures, radio, TV, and other arts related to the presentation, performance, execution and exhibition of these art forms.
• Historical restoration and preservation projects or activities:
Historical restoration and preservation projects or activities of advertising and conducting solicitation and promotional programs to encourage tourists
to visit preserved historic sites or museums.
• Sporting event expenses which substantially increase economic activity at hotels: Includes promotion expenses directly related to a sporting event in which the majority of participants are tourists.
• Funding the enhancement or upgrading of existing sports facilities
or sports fields: State law requires that the sports facilities and fields must have been used a combined total of more than 10 times for district, state, regional, or national sports tournaments in the preceding calendar year to qualify for hotel tax funding under this category.
• Funding transportation systems for tourism: Often with conventions and large meetings, there is a need to transport the attendees to different tourism venues. In 2007, the legislature authorized the use of city hotel tax for any sized city to cover the costs for transporting tourists from hotels to and near the city to any of the following destinations:
The commercial center of the city;
A convention center in the city;
Other hotels in or near the city;
Tourist attractions in or near the city;
• Signage directing tourists to sights and attractions that are visited frequently by hotel guests in the municipality
The city also appointed two councilmembers to review proposed changes/updates to the city charter. Councilwoman Kristi Brundige-Goetz brought the subject up and it was discussed for several minutes. Ultimately it was decided Brundige-Goetz would head up the committee and councilman Bob McDaniel would be on the committee as well. They will appoint somewhere between 5 and 10 community members to the committee. City attorney Pat Chesser said that the committee should have an odd number of members so there are no tie votes.
Apparently, the last update to the city charter was in 1964-1965, except for one election change. Any proposed changes that Brundige-Goetz and the committee come up with will be reviewed by the city council and will then have to be voted on by the citizens in the November 2019 elections.
Likewise, Turney is forming a committee from city employees to look at updating and revising city ordinances.
One issue brought up during the discussing about reviewing the charter is that Ballinger city council members only serve 2-year terms while in many other towns the size of Ballinger the councilmembers serve 4-year terms.
The council passed a motion to accept bids from collection agencies to college on delinquent utility bills, municipal fines and fees. The city currently has $142,000 in accounts receivable. Turney said that they also have $125,000 in delinquent utility payments due to the city. There is currently no one to collect on these accounts. The motion was passed.
If you noticed a 3% increase in your water bill, it’s due to the fact that the contract the city has with Republic services for trash pickup stipulates a 3% raise every year.
AirMed issues have been corrected. Due to some billing miscommunications the account had been flagged as 60-days delinquent. AirMed dropped coverage but Turney worked with them and got it all figured out so that they brought the account current. The liability concern was that if people were in the AirMed program via their city utility payment and the city was delinquent and thus coverage was dropped, the city would be liable for any AirMed transport that happened during that span. Getting the situation resolved was done quickly and efficiently by Turney and will be revisited by the council in the future to determine if they want to continue to work with AirMed to offer the program via city utility payments.
The account with the Evergreen cemetery has been brought current. They are still working out the logistics on payments regarding how often the city will pay and how the fees will be billed to the city. The cemetery fund is $1 per month. It’s optional but you are automatically opted in when you start your utilities. You have to opt out of the fee. Councilman Jason Gore doesn’t feel that people she automatically be charged $1 for the program, he doesn’t see a reason they should have to opt out because they shouldn’t be opted in to begin with unless they choose to be involved.
The CDs and finances are in a separate article that will be in next week’s paper.