By ABBEY KUNKLE
Special to the PRESS
January 15, 2015
The South Padre Island City Council met Tuesday morning to discuss the possibility of rewriting a current legislative bill that dictates the allocation of Hotel/Motel Tax funds to expand the option to spend the funds to include any facilities, programs, or marketing related to SpaceX and ecotourism.
Council Member Julee LaMure shared information about the bill and her goal to make improvements encouraging the Council to authorize lobbyist Clint Smith from Hillco Partners, and Scott Joslove with the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association to rewrite the current bill. LaMure brought up that the bill dictates how the 8.5 percent Hotel/Motel Tax must be spent specifically allowing for expenses for the Convention Centre. She proposed to make it less restrictive by adding language to allow for some of the funds to be spent towards marketing for SpaceX to attract visitors to the area. LaMure added, “SpaceX is an incredible economic development opportunity that has been laid at our feet, and thus far, we have done nothing to capture that.” She also suggested adding in language for the development of ecotourism including organizations like the Birding and Nature Center, the Native Plant Center, Sea Turtle Inc. and more.
Currently, the Hotel/Motel Tax budget at South Padre Island is around $6.8 million compared to Galveston at $3.8 million, Brownsville with $1 million, and Harlingen at $500,000. As they are collected from the hotel industry, the funds are required to be used “to put heads in beds” or keep them there, and SpaceX could significantly assist in that cause. The ample budget could potentially be used towards marketing, creating new events, or even building structures like a viewing amphitheater, all of which could increase visitors to the Island throughout the various seasons.
City Attorney Paul Cunningham argued that with the bill as it is currently written, his opinion of the language is that it would already allow the city to use the funds in that capacity, but the council felt that broadening that language would be beneficial and would afford more flexibility in how the funds are spent. LaMure added that she did not want to remove anything from the bill but only add to it.
Realizing the urgency with which they needed to add their own bill to the ever-growing list of bills which will go before the legislature during this year’s session, Council Member Sam Listi motioned that they expand the discussion to Scott Joslove who will function to protect the hotel lodging membership. The bill must be approved by the hotel community before being sent to lobbyist Clint Smith to review the bill along with Cunningham. Ultimately, the rewritten bill will be sent to the office of Rep. Rene Olivera (D-Brownsville) and filed with the Texas legislature. The Council passed the motion and authorized Smith and Joslove to proceed to rewrite the bill with the additional language.
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