By Kathi Bliss
“This is a circus because we’ve let it be a circus!”
Venom and vitriol, discord and disagreement were the order of the day during a contentious meeting of the Lockhart City Council meeting on Tuesday evening, as the fractures and fissures within the council and throughout the community exploded into fault lines while the Council discussed the allocation of this year’s hotel/motel tax revenue.
It has become commonplace for the Council to grapple with how to allocate the hotel/motel tax funds, which are meant to be used to draw “heads to beds,” through promotion of tourism within the community. Equally common within that discussion is the notion of “fairness” when distributing the monies between the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a problem which few communities in the area face, as so few communities have separate chambers of commerce.
Councilmember Kenny Roland, who called the discussion a “circus” when his colleagues began to shout over one another to make their points heard, urged the organizations to work together to determine a fair solution for the allocation of the funds.
“With the system we have in place now, it will continue to divide us,” Roland said. “We have to be unified and it starts with the two businesses that have the biggest difference.”
Having heard presentations earlier in the month from five organizations, including both chambers, the Caldwell County Museum, the Gaslight-Baker Theatre and the Southwest Museum of Clocks and Watches, the council had been poised to make a decision about the allocations on Tuesday evening, but a letter from the owner of the largest local hotel changed everything.
That letter opened up the discussion, once again, of fairness in the distribution of the funds, the lion’s share of which have gone to the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce for several years.
“It’s one-sided,” Mayor Pro-Tem John Castillo said. “The Hispanic Chamber is running in the red, and they need more help.”
The discussion became heated as several councilmembers, including Castillo, Angie Gonzales-Sanchez and Richard Banks pushed for a larger share of the pie to be given to the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Mayor Lew White referred to the earlier presentations, in which the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce representatives focused on the funds, over and above their hotel/motel tax allocation, they have spent promoting the community, and the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce focused mostly on local programs such as their “incubator” office program and the annual Step Up To Success business seminar for Lockhart High School freshmen.
“I think the split accurately reflects the amount of activity, and though it’s not a slight to the other organizations, the Chamber is getting the Lion’s share of the money because they’re doing the lion’s share of the work,” White said.
His assessment drew passionate response from other members of the council, who suggested the Hispanic Chamber could do more if they had more to work with.
“The other entities can’t afford full-time staff, so their level of volunteerism is higher,” Gonzales-Sanchez countered.
“Do we want to use this money to keep these organizations afloat, or do we want to use it to promote our town?” White responded.
Solutions for settlement of the issue were in short supply as the councilmembers disintegrated from conversation to chaos, painting a clear picture that the majority of the council supports taking money from the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce to give to the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but with no one offering a suggestion of how that division should be calculated, or why.
Another alternative available to the council, which was not discussed openly, is the possibility that the City withhold the funding from all the requesting organizations, instead using the hotel/motel tax money to support the certificate of obligation that has funded the renovation of the Dr. Eugene Clark Library, which will house an events center, qualifying the project as an appropriate use for the hotel/motel tax funding.
Springboarding from Roland’s repeated requests that representatives from the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce come to the table to negotiate an agreement that will include the five entities, the council voted 5-2 to table the initiative until a special-called meeting next week, which will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m.
White and Councilmember Benny Hillburn, who earlier stated he saw no compelling reason to change the current allocations, voted against the motion.
In other news, a divided council overrode the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission, who voted to approve a zoning change at 115 S. Guadalupe.
The property, which is zoned “Residential High Density,” was used for several years as commercial property, despite the zoning restrictions in the area.
Owner Robert Mendez made improvements to the property, which he has used in the past as an antique shop, and had hoped the council would change the zoning on the property to make that use compliant with the zoning.
Several neighbors came forward, imploring the council to block the zoning change, fearing that future commercial use of the property would bring negative impacts to their neighborhood. Because there was a protest against the zoning change, the council was required to vote with a 6-1 majority to allow the change.
After discussion about any possible ways to reach a compromise that would satisfy both Mendez and the neighbors, the council voted 4-3 to approve the voting change, but the change failed because it did not achieve a 6-1 majority.
In brief news:
The council approved the purchase of a variety of equipment required for improvements to the electrical grid in connection with the Clear Fork Substation and Highway 183 Improvement projects.
They approved zoning change that will cause several properties grandfathered under “Manufactured Home District” to “Residential Low Density,” which will require the owners of the properties to remove the vacant manufactured homes from the properties.
The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Center at Lockhart City Hall. However, because the council agreed to a special-called meeting to settle the hotel/motel tax issue, the next meeting with be at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25. The meetings are open to the public and televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.