City Council members postponed the acceptance of a hotel-motel occupancy tax spending report from Bee County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Pam Stuart Tuesday after Mayor Pro Tem John Fulghum requested more information on the chamber’s income figures.
Also, the agenda item did not call for action on Stuart’s report even though City Manager Ford Patton recommended that it be formally accepted.
State law requires that the city use money it receives from the hotel-motel occupancy tax to encourage tourism. The city gives the chamber 50 percent of what it collects in the taxes each year for that purpose and makes payments to the organization on a quarterly basis.
City Finance Director Robert Aguilar said the chamber received $68,053.35 from the city during the 2006 calendar year, $86,518.30 in 2007 and has received $40,276.57 so far this year.
Stuart confirmed during Tuesday evening’s meeting at City Hall that the organization uses those revenues to pay half of the salaries of the chamber’s three employees.
Fulghum, however, wanted to know how the chamber was encouraging tourism with the money. He wanted to know how much of the tax funds had been used to pay for advertising, what the chamber has been advertising and in which publications. He also asked if the chamber had been using the money to advertise community festivals.
Stuart said the chamber has used funds to promote Western Week but, when Fulghum asked, she said the organization had not promoted Fiesta Bee County’s annual Diez y Seis festival.
When asked about that, Stuart said it was because Fiesta had not asked the chamber to promote its annual function. She said the chamber would have promoted the festival if it had been asked.
Stuart said the chamber purchases advertisements in a tourism guide published by the Coastal Bend Council of Governments which encourages tourism in all of the 12 counties that belong to that organization.
She said the chamber also uses the money to help promote hunting in Bee County.
Fulghum also wanted to know how much the chamber takes in a year in other income and Stuart said the figure was about $65,000.
The councilman then ran down a list of functions that the chamber used to handle but no longer does. Stuart said the Yard Sale Trail is now handled by the Bee County Exposition Center, the Hotter Than Ever Bicycle event has been canceled because of a lack of volunteer support, Market Days has been dropped because of complaints from downtown businesses who said the event pulled shoppers away from Washington Street.
Stuart said the chamber had looked into the possibility of holding the Market Days event downtown but had decided against it when the chamber was told it would have to pay for the cost of closing the three blocks of Washington Street.
She told Mayor Kenneth Chesshir that it might be possible to hold something similar to Market Days in the parking lot west of the 300 block of North Washington Street when the new pavilion is completed next to the old Southern Pacific Railroad tracks.
Stuart said she expects the city to see an increase in motel occupancy tax receipts because people now have a hard time finding a motel room in Beeville. She said she expects occupancy to increase once the new Holiday Inn Express is completed on U.S. Highway 59 east of the city. She mentioned that work had begun on that site.
The chamber director said her staff conducted a study to determine who uses local motels had learned that most people who use the city’s motels come during the week and are here to work.
Stuart said the chamber will not be involved in the Western Week celebration this year because the local Go Texan organization has opted to take over that event completely. She said Go Texan members want to return the nature of the annual festival back to what it was years ago. She said the chamber will help the organization “a little bit.”
“Our dollars only go so far,”Stuart said, “and there aren’t many of them.”
“You should have been here in January,” Fulghum said, mentioning that her report was late this year. Stuart acknowledged that she was late in reporting to the council and said she had been unaware she was to give the report.
When Fulghum said he would not vote to accept the report because the council had not been given enough figures on the chamber’s income, Chesshir recommended tabling action on the report until its June 24 meeting.
In other business, the council voted to:
— Approve spending $30,000 in 4B sales tax funds to replace the septic system for the public restroom facilities near the Little League and softball fields at Veterans Memorial Park.
— Authorize Grant Works to provide administrative services and Urban Engineering to conduct design work on projects that will be funded by a $300,000 community development block grant.
— Authorize the city to go forward with an application for a solid waste grant from the Coastal Bend Council of Governments.
— Appoint Councilman David Carabajal to serve as the city’s representative on the Bee Community Action Agency board of directors.
— Approve an ordinance giving Alamo Fireworks permission to continue operating its stand on property owned by Quiroga Properties at the Pantry West convenience store location. The Quiroga family had the property annexed into the city recently in exchange for sewer services and the fireworks company has been selling its products at that location for the last 16 years.
Beeville has an ordinance against possession or using fireworks within the city limits.
— Reappoint Erie Head and Luis Longoria to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and postpone appointing a third member to that board. The council also delayed action on appointing a member to the Traffic Safety Commission.