Council splits on tourism funding

By Kathi Bliss
Editor/POST-REGISTER

A normally routine decision by the Lockhart City Council became a point of contention on Tuesday evening as the council discussed how to allocate hotel-motel tax money for the coming fiscal year.

The tax funds, generated specifically by guests in local hotels and motels, are generally coveted in the tourism industry, and are required to be used to draw overnight visitors to Lockhart. State and federal laws strictly govern the use and allocation of the funds and impose tight guidelines as to what sorts of expenses can be paid using the monies.

As recently as last year, the Lockhart City Council made changes to the way the funds are allocated. Historically, all hotel-motel tax money had been distributed among several tourism-generating organizations, including the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the theatres and local museums. However last year, the council voted to hold back a portion of the funds, as allowed by law, to help repay the certificates of obligation budgeted to fund renovation work at the historic Dr. Eugene Clark Library Complex.

This year, contention showed to be growing among the city council, as requests for the funds expanded, and additional organizations grapple for a piece of the pie.

In addition to the two chambers of commerce, the Gaslight-Baker Theatre, the Caldwell County Museum and the Southwest Museum of Clocks and Watches, the Friends of the Brock Cabin requested funding from the hotel-motel tax collection, promising their endeavor would generate tourism in the area.

Heated discussion ensued regarding the funding, which the council has historically divided between the organizations on a percentage basis, largely factoring in the amount of tourism each organization supports.

At-Large Councilmember Angie Gonzales-Sanchez hoped to break the traditional pattern, initially suggesting that equal funding should be allowed for the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce, which normally receives about 60 percent of the total available tax revenue, and the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which garners around 20 percent.

Her position held that both chambers of commerce were instrumental in hosting events and bringing visitors from out of town, and should be treated equally as funding was concerned.

District Three Councilmember Lew White responded that the disparity in funding is based in large part upon the fact that the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce is open daily and consistently, and helps with tourism promotion in generating visitors’ packets and acting as a Visitors’ Center, in addition to hosting the annual Chisholm Trail Roundup Barbecue and Music Festival. As confirmed by their presentation last month, these are functions the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has been unable to perform in the past, because of their inability to fund full-time staffing for their office.

Gonzales-Sanchez suggested if the Greater Caldwell County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce received more funding, they could perform greater functions. However, under law, the funds can only be used to fund administrative costs as they pertain directly to tourism generation.

District Two Councilmember John Castillo echoed her concerns, also noting that he would like to see the organizations work together more cohesively with cross-promotion. He cited the fact that he had not seen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce events included in the Lockhart Chamber of Commerce’s promotional materials

“If the city is going to help fund these things, I’d like to see more working together, and everyone promoting everyone else,” he said.

While several members of the council expressed concern about including the Friends of
the Brock Cabin in the funding, District Four Councilmember Richard Banks openly refused to vote for any measure that did not include funding for the organization.

“I believe that all the organizations do great work, and I’d love to be able to continue to fund that at the same levels as we have,” he said. “But I think that we should fund the Brock Cabin the way we fund the other two museums, and take from the other three organizations proportionally to do so.”

White, who serves as the city’s liaison to the Friends of the Brock Cabin, said that while he supports the efforts toward restoration of the cabin, he felt the organization was not yet in a position with the restoration project to be a tourist draw at this point, and suggested the council continue funding the other organizations at their present levels, and reconsider allocating funds to the Friends of the Brock Cabin at a later date.

White’s suggestion was put in the form of a motion, which passed 4-3, with Banks, Castillo and Gonzales-Sanchez voting against the measure.

In other business, the council held a second public hearing and considered the idea of extending the legal sale of alcohol in establishments licensed for on-premise consumption until 2 a.m.

During the council’s last regular meeting, owners of several local establishments came forward and offered support for the measure, suggesting that while they may not choose to stay open until 2 a.m., they would like to have the option to do so.

There was some confusion, at that time, as to whether the extended hours would be a requirement, or whether the establishments would have the power to decide.
After a brief public hearing where one opponent of the measure came forward and suggested that, “nothing good happens at 2 a.m.,” the council took a vote on the measure.

The proposal failed 4-3, with Gonzales-Sanchez, Mayor Pro Tem Paul Gomez and Mayor Ray Sanders being in support of allowing the extended hours.

In brief news:
The council voted to move forward with a plan to migrate utility meters to “smart meter” technology. The rollout of the program will likely be done on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, and should allow the City of Lockhart utility service to more quickly and accurately read customers’ meters.

They approved a request from Police Chief Mike Lummus to convert a retired ambulance unit to a Police Department Mobile Command Unit and Emergency Response Team Unit. Lummus asked the council to assign the unit to the police department, rather than selling it, because it will meet police department needs for at least another five years with limited retrofitting. The purchase of a new Mobile Command Unit would cost upwards of $250,000.

Roy Watson, a designer and member of the Friends of the Brock Cabin, gave a lengthy presentation regarding a preliminary plan for the use of Lions Park as the primary location. His presentation focused on the cabin restoration and expanding activities and amenities in the park to include a pavilion and event center, a “living museum,” and upgraded parking and restroom facilities. The council took no action on the plan, as it was for informational purposes only.

Despite extended discussion about the cabin in the last two years, the City Council has not confirmed an official position as to whether the cabin will remain in Lions Park or be moved to another location, as restoration efforts push forward.

The panel approved a resolution expressing support for the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, which plans to develop a Flood Protection Planning Project in the near future. The project, expected to be funded through grants, will include an extensive watershed study and measurement of current area waterways.

The Lockhart City Council routinely meets on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Glosserman Conference Room of Lockhart City Hall. The meetings are open to the public and televised on Time Warner Digital Cable Channel 10.

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