By David Tuma, The Belton Journal
During a meeting with local city and county officials on Friday, State Representative Molly White announced that she would neither support nor introduce legislation that would create a county-wide hotel occupancy tax that would benefit the Bell County Expo Center.
City administrators and Bell County officials have been working together for almost two years on expanding the Bell County Expo Center. The Expo Center is used year round by virtually every community in Bell County for a variety of events from high school and college graduations to conferences to livestock shows. It was built to support the kids of Bell County at the Bell County Youth Fair.
However, the facility is in desperate need of several renovations and additions to support the ever-increasing demand it sees throughout the year, totaling nearly $27 million. In order to avoid placing a burden on local citizens by implementing a property tax to pay for the improvements, local county and city officials voted to create a tax on hotel occupancies in the county, a tax that has been implemented by 40 other counties in the state of Texas for similar reasons since the tax was authorized by the 70th Legislative Session in 1987. Although the tax has already been created, it must still be approved by state legislation in each county before it can be collected.
The tax essentially places a 2 percent fee on hotel bills within the county, so the tax is paid by those who visit Bell County and spend the night in a hotel here. It would reduce the tax burden of Bell County residents by an estimated $8 million over the next 10 years. Each municipality within the county passed resolutions in support of the tax, and Senator Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, voiced his support, saying he would carry the bill in the Senate if it were proposed in the House. Rep. Jimmy Aycock, R-Killeen, also stated that he would not oppose the bill if proposed, although he would not propose it himself since the Expo Center lies within White’s jurisdiction.
However, White still chose not to introduce the bill, citing a lack of consensus among representatives in the area, indicating Aycock.
“You (White) are elected by the people. You are basically voting for people who don’t live here and voted for the guests. I don’t get it,” Mayor of Belton Marion Grayson.
A 2008 study reported that the Bell County Expo Center generated approximately $13 million in Direct Spending in surrounding communities, and this was projected to increase by at least $5.7 million as a result of the proposed expansion. In other words, the revenue to local businesses was estimated to increase by $5.7 million a year after the improvements to the Expo Center.
Bell County officials also planned to give back a portion of the money collected from the tax to each community that has hotels. Killeen and Temple are estimated to have collected more than 1.5 million over a 10-year period if this bill would have been presented, which could have been used for development projects.
From an economic standpoint, over a 10-year period the loss in tourism dollars is estimated to be over $57 million.
When you pump dollars into the economy using the tourism it already has, it produces at minimum a 1.7 benefit. So if you get somebody to spend a dollar, your economy receives 1.7 dollars of benefit. So that $57 million becomes a $96.9 million dollar slap-in-the-face loss.
“The Expo Center is used by every large high school in this county,” said Richard Cortese, Bell County Commissioner, Precinct 1. “I believe our state representatives missed the opportunity to support their local constituents. I was very disappointed.”