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2012-02-09

Funding barely there for Cowboy Capital events

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Unfortunately for organizers of tourist-centric events, little monetary assistance appears to be forthcoming from the City of Bandera.

During a special meeting on Thursday, Jan. 26, Bandera's cupboard that formerly contained the Hotel-Motel Occupancy Tax revenue (HOT funds) was inexplicably bare. As a result, the city will explore asking investigators from the Office of the Texas Comptroller to conduct financial audits of local hotels and motels that contribute to the HOT funds.

Only 60 percent of funding

In January, George Sharman, president of the Frontier Times Museum Board of Directors, requested $5,000 from the HOT funds. The money would be used for national advertising for the museum's signature National Day of the American Cowboy celebration, set for Saturday, July 28. However, with city coffers embarrassingly bare, council could not act on Sharman's request.

During a regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2, Genie Strickland, event coordinator for the Wild Hog Explosion, requested $1,500 for the library fundraiser.

At that point, City Treasurer Ernie DeWinne suggested giving only 60 percent of the amounts requested by all groups, which would theoretically equate to Wild Hog Explosion receiving $900; National Day of the American Cowboy, $2,500; Celebrate Bandera. $4,800; and the Bandera Business Association (BBA), $15,000.

Future vetting possible

DeWinne noted, "Receipts from River Oaks were down 13 percent in the third quarter." Although the receipts increased during hunting season, overall, they were down, he added. "Two of our larger institutions have paid," DeWinne said. However, two others have been turned over to an attorney to begin the collections process and "others are behind in their payments."

He also told council that the $3,000 owed by the defunct Texas Square property had been written off in January.

When Strickland asked why the National Day of the American Cowboy event received $2,500, she was informed, "They had asked for $5,000."

Strickland countered, "So, if we ask for more, we'll get more?"

"You can ask for as much as you want, but that's no guarantee you'll get it," Councilman Nancy Montgomery said.

Council is contemplating a vetting process for all future requests for HOT funds. The process would include determining each event's funding from other entities, such as Bandera County, Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and the BBA.

Paucity of funds

Council agreed to delay paying anything to anyone until the Thursday, Feb. 16, meeting when hopefully DeWinne would present more definitive HOT numbers.

During the January meeting, when the paucity of HOT funds first came to light, Sharman said that in 2010, the city allotted the cowboy-centric celebration $5,000. Last year, however, the museum only received $2,500 for the all-volunteer event - with a promise of more in 2012 if circumstances allowed. Apparently, circumstances don't.

In January, according to DeWinne, the city's HOT fund bank account only contained $3,400. "On a cash basis, we're $1,143 in the hole," he said, adding that local hostelries have been slow to pay their mandatory taxes. "Over $1,000 remains unpaid for the quarter that ended on Sept. 30," DeWinne said. He told council he would send out dunning notices to tardy tax-paying venues.

Are receipts accurate?

Pointing out that some of the larger hotels reported the same amount of taxes as ones with far less rooms, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher said, "Someone is not being accurate."

According to DeWinne, however, the motels and hotels report the same data to the state comptroller.

"It seems odd that motels with 48 and 33 rooms would pay the same amount of taxes as one with only 11 rooms," Schumacher rejoined. "This discrepancy needs to be investigated."

DeWinne said he would contact the comptroller's office and request an audit of local motels and hotels whose accounting has been questioned.

It was also noted that small B&Bs and individual cabins within the municipality also must submit tax receipts to the state.

Neither surplus

DeWinne also told council that the once-upon-a-time surplus that enabled the city's largesse to tourist-producing events was gone. "Money that was built up has been given away. We have no more cash to give away," he said, adding, "We can't borrow money from the general fund to put in HOT and pay back when the hotel-motel receipts come in."

"You can see in the past three years how drastically the fund has gone down," said Councilman Binky Archer.
"We had a surplus for many years, but no longer. At the moment, we don't have much money," Mayor Horst Pallaske concurred.

Strickland, who serves on the board of directors for the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau, reminded council that two contributors to the HOT fund are no longer open - Texas Square and The Mansion in Bandera. She advocated that council prepare a budget based on last year's tax receipts.

However, that provided cold comfort to the entities that must find ways for paying for national advertising now.

Nor assurances

When Sharman asked for assurances that sufficient money for the National Day of the American Cowboy celebration would be forthcoming in the next six to nine months, he got a lecture instead.

"We can't give you that assurance; we have people that don't pay," Pallaske said.

Council postponed a decision on Sharman's request for funds until the last quarter's HOT revenues are posted.

According to Sharman, the CVB allocated $5,000 to the Frontier Times Museum this year - with $3,000 going toward July's National Day of the American Cowboy and $2,000 earmarked for updating the museum's website.

"Last year, over 2,000 people attended Bandera's National Day of the American Cowboy celebration. Our data collection showed that 22 percent of those people stayed in local lodging," Sharman said during a January interview. "We spent the $2,500 judiciously. I don't understand this at all. This is an event sponsored by their museum - and Bandera is, after all, the Cowboy Capital of the World."

Where is 'Silent Stranger?'

Interestingly, in the summer of 2010, when the HOT revenues showed a surplus, city council granted Mike Murehead's request for sponsorship of a 45-minute video, "Bandera Silent Stranger." Originally, Archer made a motion to give Murehead his requested $5,000; however, her motion died for lack of a second. Ultimately, Archer and Montgomery voted in favor of Montgomery's motion to allot Murehead $3,000 for his cinematic project.

Schumacher and Councilman John Hegemier cast "nay" votes.

Voting in favor of the project, Pallaske broke the 2-2 vote, noting, "If we say we are a film-friendly community, we must do something for it."

To date, however, only Hegemier has seen the short film - and even he cannot currently locate a copy. "I thought Mike said copies of 'Silent Stranger' film would be available for purchase at the CVB and Chamber," Hegemier said. "I can't find it anywhere - not even online."

In semi-related matters, during the January meeting, council unanimously declined to approve a budget request of $3,400 from the Bandera Economic Development Corporation to fund the Polish-Ukrainian, slated for this summer. Council, however, approved an EDC increase of $3,000 for the Cowboys on Main project. Previously, EDC had earmarked $10,000 for the project in the 2011-2012 budget.