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Rutherford’s proposals re CVB funding

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Precinct 4 Commissioner
Jordan “Jody” Rutherford

Although no action was taken, Precinct 4 Commissioner Jordan “Jody” Rutherford’s comments and suggestions no doubt raised some eyebrows during a special meeting of commissioners court on Monday, May 9.
However, the initial eyebrow raiser occurred when Patricia Moore, executive director for the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau, submitted her budget for fiscal year 2015-16. The proposed budget was just $20,000 shy of half a million dollars.
Rutherford’s requested agenda item began discussions of the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) revenues and disbursements. He also expressed a desire to “formulate guidelines and regulations for any business, organization or individual receiving said funding from the county.”
By law, hotels, motels and B&Bs located throughout the county must collect a Hotel Occupancy Tax. The HOT levy – often irreverently referred to as the “heads in beds” or “butts in beds” tax – is imposed on out-of-county visitors who stay overnight in the various facilities.
During an earlier meeting, Chief Tax Assessor and Collector Gwenda Tschirhart had clarified the method by which tax revenues are distributed to the CVB. As she explained, overnight venues in the county send the collected taxes to her office quarterly – or, in some cases, monthly. Tschirhart then forwards the revenues, along with a report indicating who paid and how much, to County Treasurer Billie Reeves. The monthly collected funds are then issued by the treasurer’s office “dollar for dollar” to the CVB.
City staff collects the municipality’s percentage of the HOT funds. Visitors staying in the city pay a tax to both the city and county.
Bandera County began collecting hotel occupancy taxes in September 2003. Since that time, the CVB has received all HOT funds collected – and the amount has increased steadily in the ensuing years.
Last October, Rutherford discovered that the county enters into an annual contract with the CVB, which enables the organization to receive HOT funds. He also determined that although no other entities had petitioned the court for the funds, apparently anyone could, according to current state statutes.
In his five pages of talking points during last week’s meeting, Rutherford proposed that the county retain 50 percent of the HOT funds in the next fiscal year and 100 percent in the future.
“I believe this county needs to embark on a process of building a new visitors center that is owned and operated by Bandera County,” he said. The proposed retained HOT funds would be used to restore and maintain historical buildings and sites throughout the county. It’s not a secret that county officials would like to restore the historic courthouse and jail located on 12th Street. The courthouse could serve as a combination visitors center, Chamber of Commerce office and perhaps a small museum.
“I know we need to continue advertising and to continue bringing in tourists – which is our major industry,” Rutherford said. But then he asked, “How much return are we getting on the $500,000 – which is half a million dollars – spent only on advertising?”
He then listed myriad projects, aside from advertising, on which the funds could be spent to benefit the entire county, including, among others:
• Encouraging and promoting the arts
• Historical restoration and preservation and advertising to encourage tourists to visit historical sites and museums
• Developing sports facilities, including covering the arena at Mansfield Park, to host regional and national events
• Multi-use facilities
• Directional signage pointing out frequently visited attractions
• Transportation to and from the attractions
“I did not ask for action to be taken on this proposal as I want to get input and have a discussion on this proposal over the next several weeks before placing it on the agenda again. At that time, I will make a motion to implement these guidelines and rules,” Rutherford concluded.
However, as Judge Richard Evans continually notes, “On commissioners court, you have to be able to count to three.”
According to reports, a posted workshop with commissioners and members of the CVB Board of Directors will be scheduled as soon as possible. Commissioners and the judge reportedly rejected a proposal from the board that they meet individually in a series of “one-on-one” sessions.