2017-08-10 / Front Page

HOT election on city council agenda Aug. 17

Dan Parker
News editor


Pictured at an Aug. 1 meeting are, from left, Port Aransas City Council members Wendy Moore and Beth Owens, Mayor Charles Bujan and council members Beverly Bolner, Charles W. Crawford Jr. and Joan Holt. Not pictured but also at the meeting was Councilman Bruce Clark. The council is expected to decide on Aug. 17 whether to order an election asking voters if they want to finance construction of a sporting complex through a 2 percent increase in the city’s hotel occupancy tax. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. at council chambers. 
Staff photo by Dan Parker Pictured at an Aug. 1 meeting are, from left, Port Aransas City Council members Wendy Moore and Beth Owens, Mayor Charles Bujan and council members Beverly Bolner, Charles W. Crawford Jr. and Joan Holt. Not pictured but also at the meeting was Councilman Bruce Clark. The council is expected to decide on Aug. 17 whether to order an election asking voters if they want to finance construction of a sporting complex through a 2 percent increase in the city’s hotel occupancy tax. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. at council chambers. Staff photo by Dan Parker Will we have an election to possibly raise the hotel occupancy tax to fund construction of a sporting complex?

We’ll find out on Thursday, Aug. 17, when the Port Aransas City Council is set to vote on whether to formally call for an election. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. at council chambers, 710 W. Ave. A.

If the council OKs the idea, the election will be on Nov. 7.

Voters would decide whether to raise the hotel occupancy tax rate 2 percent to pay for construction of the complex, which would be a venue for sports competitions and other events and also include community recreation center facilities.

The city’s hotel occupancy tax currently stands at 13 percent, with 7 percent of that going into city coffers and the rest going to the state. The city is seeking to raise that amount to 15 percent, which would put the Port Aransas occupancy tax rate as high as it can go, legally. Some other cities, however, have even higher rates. State law affects different cities different ways with regard to the tax.

If voters OK raising the hotel occupancy tax, the money could be used only for construction of the venue facility, but not for operational costs, said City Manager Dave Parsons.

The hotel occupancy tax increase would drop back to 13 percent again after the facility is paid for, he said.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office and state Comptroller’s Office have provided the legally required approvals for the concept, Parsons said.

The idea for the venue project has grown out of years-long calls by community members to build a recreation center in Port Aransas. The city council had a feasibility study done, showing what the facility could look like and how it could operate.

The council earlier this year talked about calling for a bond election to see if Port Aransas voters would want the facility built and paid for with property taxes. But city leaders then started looking at the possibility of raising the hotel occupancy tax, because that would mean it would be visitors, not locals, who would pay for construction.

Expenditures of hotel occupancy tax money legally must be directed toward matters related to attracting visitors to town, or “heads in beds.” The city checked with the Attorney General’s Office and found that the occupancy tax money could be devoted to construction if the facility could be considered a venue for events that will draw people from out of town to visit Port Aransas.

Plans for a recreation center originally included a gymnasium, but the city now has expanded that aspect to make the facility bigger and better equipped for a wide variety of sports events that could draw teams and their fans from out of town. The expansion was key to getting the OK from the Attorney General’s Office to hold an election to raise the hotel occupancy tax.

City officials haven’t determined a specific cost for construction of the facility. The feasibility study put it at about $6.5 million, but that was before the idea of expanding the gym came around. With the venue proposal, the construction cost is expected to be more than $10 million, Parsons said.

While the sought-after 2 percent hike in the hotel occupancy tax legally couldn’t be used for the costs of maintenance and operations of the facility, money from the city’s hotel-motel facilities fund could be used for that, Parsons said. Hotel occupancy tax money that already is a source of continuing revenue goes into that fund.

No specific figures have been put together yet for the maintenance and operating costs involved with the expanded facility, but they can be expected to be more than the amount needed for the smaller one, Parsons said. Yet, the city’s taxpayers won’t be hit as hard for those costs with the new concept, he said. Hotel occupancy tax revenue that the city already is getting could pay for probably about 80 percent of maintenance and operating costs, he said.

When the city was planning on a facility that just would have been a recreation center, city officials were looking at funding maintenance and operations costs entirely through the city’s general fund, which is fed by property taxes. Some 47 percent of the general fund currently comes from property taxes, said Darla Honea, the city’s finance director.

The complex could be marketable as a venue for events such as gymnastics competitions, wrestling and basketball and volleyball tournaments, plus cheerleading and dance events, said Jeff Hentz, chairman and CEO of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau.

Parsons said pickle ball tournaments also would be a possibility, along with nonsports events, such as musical productions, speeches, graduations and fundraisers.

Aside from the gym area, other parts of the facility still would contain the community recreation center-oriented features that originally were sought, Parsons said. That’s expected to include:

• Replacing the city parks and recreation department’s offices, which currently are housed in 40-year-old former school district portable buildings that have become dilapidated;

• Providing multipurpose classroom/meeting facilities to support educational programs in the arts or for senior activities, after-school programs, summer camp activities and event rentals (birthdays, weddings, reunions, etc.);

• A place for Port Aransas youth, with a “teen center,” youth activities, gym and fitness areas;

• A catering kitchen with a stage and dance studio;

• A “movement studio” for yoga, karate, pilates and other activities;

• A multi-purpose weight and exercise area with an indoor track;

• A toddlers’ area.

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