Hotel/Motel taxes discussed at council meeting
It may had felt like Christmas in September for some organizations requesting Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax funds.
The Orange City Council held its regular meeting on Tuesday morning and also conducted a public hearing on the allocation of HOT funds. During the public hearing, representatives from various organizations thanked the city for considering them and explained what the funds would be used for.
The public hearing was closed and then the council approved HOT funds for Fiscal Year 2014-2015 for the following:
Southeast Texas Arts Council $18,837
Heritage House $30,000
Friends of the Orange Depot $15,000
Chamber of Commerce $40,000
CVB Revised Proposed Budget $378,163
Gulf Coast Cajun-Annual Festival $3,000
Orange Trade Days $2,500
Riverfront Pavilion Alternatives $75,000
SETAC Off Ramp Magazine $2,500
Gail English, finance director, told the council HOT funds are collected by hotel operators from the hotel customers.
The city’s portion of seven percent is remitted to the city on a monthly basis. HOT funds usages is regulated by Chapter 351.001 of the Texas Tax Code and limited to six specific categories. There is a 15 percent maximum expenditure for the Arts and a 50 percent maximum expenditure for historical restoration and preservation.
Jay Trahan, Orange Economic Development Corporation director, said the original total requests were $655,163. The staff recommend a total of $565,000.
Trahan said this year the city has incurred new competing interests from various organizations.
Councilman Bill Mello inquired if the the $75,000 to be used for the Riverfront Pavilion Alternatives could be directed elsewhere.
City Manage Shawn Oubre answered this may affect refurbishing plans for the city hall campus and from moving the CVB from the rear of the city hall building to the front.
“It may hamper long-term goals to refurbish city hall,” Oubre said.
Councilman Larry Spears Jr. asked if the HOT funds request could be tabled to mull over them. Oubre said tabling the item may affect the organizations if they are on a budget time line.
The Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce requested $65,000 in funds for the BASS Elite Fishing Tournament, Mardi Gras, etc.
City Councilman Tommy Ferguson said the tournament held in 2013 was “the best thing that ever happened in my life in Orange, Texas.”
Tournament chairman, John Gauthier, said the last tournament brought in $2.6 million in revenue for a 10-day period.
“It’s a worthwhile event and we have plans to be bigger,” he said.
The final reading of a Maintenance & Operation Tax Rate of .56813, a Debt Service Tax Rate of .11318 for a Total Ad Valorem Tax Rate of .68131.
The council also approved the first reading of authorizing the OEDC to undertake a project involving Brazos Urban, LLC and to expend funds on the project.
Brazos Urban will redevelop the Southern Printers Building at 5th St. and Front Ave. The redevelopment of the first floor of the building would entail converting it into commercial space to feature a coffee lounge, full service kitchen and downtown market. The redevelopment of the second floor of the building would entail six rental lofts.
The OEDC cannot expend funds in excess of $350,000 for the project. Brazos Urban would reapy the OEDC $75,000 within a 60-month time period. The final reading will be at the next council meeting on Sept. 23.
The council also approved allowing a certified peace officer to perform code enforcement activities related to high grass and weeds. Councilwoman Essie Bellfield and Spears voted against the item. The police officer has been filling in the position for the past month. Jimmie Lewis, planning and community development director, said there has been better compliance since the police officer took over. Bellfield told Oubre an advertisement should had been ran since the police officer has been trained to be a peace officer.
“You don’t need to be a police officer to issue a citation. We can get a person to do the job for half the amount of money. It’s not fair,” she said. Oubre said it costs an additional $22,000 a year to have the peace officer in the code enforcement position. He is also available for police call-outs. Mello suggested they can assess the officer on a six-month basis and see how things work out.