Editor’s Note: The hotel occupancy tax was first proposed in 2008 as a way to expand the Bell County Expo Center without passing a bond issue or raising property taxes, both of which would place a burden on local taxpayers. Instead, the hotel occupancy tax would place a 2 percent tax on hotel bills within the county (essentially, adding an extra $2 on a $100 hotel bill). This would allow the county to raise funds without taxing local residents, unless they chose to stay in a Bell County hotel.
Former State Representative Ralph Sheffield made it known that he would not support the bill unless all of the major cities in the county passed resolutions supporting the measure. Representative Jimmy Aycock, District 54, whose district extends into the west side of Bell County, stated earlier this month that he would not stand in the way of the bill, but that Rep. Molly White must propose the legislation, since the Expo Center lies within her district.
The following is Rep. White’s follow-up on her recent decision not to introduce the bill before the House of Representatives, even though cities and chambers of commerce throughout Bell County had finally agreed to support the bill. Rep. White’s decision eliminates the possibility of the tax.
Over the last few days accusatory statements have expressed that because of my decision to not carry the hotel occupancy tax legislation, I do not support tourism. Furthermore, my decision has somehow led to placing a burden on local tax payers who will see a property tax increase to cover the expansion of the Bell County Exposition Center.
Let me clarify a few things. First, I am very supportive of local tourism. Second, I am very supportive of the expansion. I am not, however, supportive of raising taxes for either. Furthermore, the lack in a hotel occupancy tax does not require a rise in property taxes. Constituents must consent to an increase in property taxes through a local election, which I would not support.
Moreover, I want to take a moment to share with the constituents of HD 55 as to why the information surrounding the hotel occupancy tax did not provide sufficient details for a prudent decision.
The discussion surrounding the hotel occupancy tax began shortly after I won the primary election in March of 2014. Bell County officials approached me about the need for an expansion to the Exposition Center and how, they believe, a hotel occupancy tax would cover the cost of that expansion. I agree the expansion would benefit our community and offered local officials suggestions on how to raise revenue without raising taxes.
It is worth noting that the former Representative did not support the tax during his term, nor has Representative Aycock. The past and current unwillingness of senior legislators from Bell County to carry this legislation should be noted.
After several discussions and meetings about the hotel occupancy tax, I made my stipulations of my support known to the Commissioners: first, I needed to see how much money the tax would generate; second, how much the expansion was going to cost and if the revenue generated was going to cover the expense of the expansion and the proposed renovations of the older buildings; and third, the two senior members of the legislature that represent the rest of Bell County had to be on board with the tax. Yet, instead of direct answers to my questions, I received vague documentation, a different explanation of how the tax revenue was going to be spent than what was originally expressed and the consistent reality that not all senior members were on board with the tax.
On Wednesday, March 4, 2015, Bell County officials came to my office to present the hotel occupancy tax resolution. When I asked if the revenue generated from this proposed tax would cover the expense of the expansion and renovating the older building, I was told that the tax would not be used to cover the expansion. Instead, it would go to cover the operations of the expansion. They relayed that the expense of the expansion would be covered by another source and the renovations would be covered by refinancing the debt. This information was very troublesome to me as it was not part of our original agreement.
On March 13, 2015, I was invited to attend a local meeting with all the stakeholders including all the mayors, city councilmen, city managers, economic development commissioners, chambers, homebuilders and others to give an answer on their proposal for the hotel occupancy tax. During that meeting I told the local leaders and members of the community present that I was sticking to my original agreement, if the other senior members in this District and county were not on board to lead on this issue, then neither was I.
It remains my duty as your State Representative to gain facts, listen to both sides of the issue and make a decision that produces the best result for our District.
State Representative, HD 55