Spike puzzles officials
Nobody seems to know exactly why Port Aransas' hotel-motel tax revenue shot up by 50 percent in October, but when they find out, they'll want to do it again.
City finance officer Judy Lyle's figures show that revenue from the hotel use tax was $261,491.43 last month, compared with $174,275.69 in October of last year.
The spike for October compared with October a year ago isn't consistent with the rest of the year. In no other month did the hotel use tax shoot upward like that.
The number represents money received from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in October. Lyle said the actual spending occurred roughly during the period of July-September, 2006.
However, there was no big event in the city that would account for increased room occupancy. Hotelier Bill Bauder, who is also chairman of the Chamber of Commerce-Tourist Bureau's marketing committee, said his figures showed only a 10 percent increase in October.
Chamber marketing committee members said there was no advertising push that could account for more visitors to the city during that period.
One theory - that higher prices at the fuel pump drove Texas visitors to Port Aransas instead of to destinations farther from home - could be bolstered by the Web site Texasgasprices.com. The Web site's figures show that the statewide price of regular gasoline peaked at about $2.95 early in August, and continued to drop from then until Oct. 24. Even then, prices only rose to about $2.10 a gallon before dropping to a year-to-date low of $2.05 a gallon on Nov. 5.
According to the theory, families faced with higher gas prices in midsummer decided to motor to Port Aransas for a week or a weekend instead of vacationing farther away.
Merchants who keep an eye on spending in the city agree that recreational vehicle parks were full or nearly full throughout the summer, an unusual occurrence in itself. However, RV parks don't charge hotel-motel tax to visitors, so that alone would not account for the spike in revenue from the tax source.
Another theory points to the start of school, generally about mid-August in Texas. Families may decide to take a short vacation just before the children go back to school, the theory says.
However, that theory fails to account for the peak in 2006 compared with 2005.
Tax analysts at the Comptroller of Public Accounts in Austin scratched their heads over the rise in revenue, but laughingly suggested that whatever Port Aransas did, we should find a way to do it again.
While they had no explanation for the spike, they did suggest that it goes along with a year-long increase of 17.5 percent in hotel-motel tax revenues compared with last year.
While the rise of $87,215.74 sounds like a windfall for the city, City Manager Michael Kovacs said it doesn't mean the city has that much free cash.
"By law, we must send a portion of our hotel-motel tax revenue to the Chamber of Commerce for advertising, so this means more goes there," Kovacs said.
Part of the revenue also goes to the city's beach maintenance fund, and new this year is an account devoted to maintenance of tourist facilities.
Kovacs said the city is tracking the number of hours workers spend on tourist-related facilities such as the harbor, city parks and birding centers to learn how much of that time can be paid for through the hotel-motel tax.
Kovacs also has plans for an increase of 25.6 percent in sales tax revenue that Lyle reported for October. She said sales tax revenues for last month were $94,951.14 compared with $75,597.79 in October 2005.
"Part of the sales tax revenue goes to the Recreational Development Corporation," he said. "That budget is already set for this year, and it goes to city parks."
Kovacs said any Recreational De- velopment Corporation money that isn't allocated will go into a fund for next year's budget.
In theory, if the city receives enough revenue from the sales tax, property taxes might be reduced in the future.
However, Kovacs pointed out that there's one problem with depending on sales tax revenues.
"They can't be forecast," he said. "They're not dependable."
Neither, obviously, can hotel-motel tax revenues.