By ABBEY KUNKLE
Special to the PRESS
July 1 marked the much anticipated commencement of required compliance on the Short Term Rental Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT tax) Program. The new city ordinance was one of several issues discussed at Wednesday’s South Padre Island City Council meeting.
The basics of the HOT tax program require that property owners who intend to conduct short term rentals for less than 30 days at a time must register their properties and post registration numbers on any listings of the property. The number will aid the City in seeking out unregistered properties that are not currently contributing to the HOT tax, which is against both local and state law.
The goal of the ordinance is to bring owners into compliance rather than penalize those who have not paid taxes in the past. As of the first of the month, the City will actively seek out non-compliant property owners through a partnership with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Currently, 1,278 owners have registered, and City staff intends to practice leniency for those attempting to comply. If owners continue to evade the system, penalties of up to $500 per day per property will be assessed.
The City Council has recently shown support for bicycle related activities throughout the community from the improvement of bike lanes on Padre Boulevard to the successful Cyclovia event, which allowed for pedestrian access to the street with the closure of a portion of North Padre Boulevard. Wednesday’s meeting brought another request for a street closure for Highway 100 and partial closure of the Queen Isabella Causeway for the Raul Alcala Gran Fondo Challenge 2015. The Gran Fondo is a cycling event scheduled for August 23.
Councilwoman Julee LaMure has been an active proponent of increasing cycling opportunities in the community with recent discussion of creating a series of trails throughout the Valley. LaMure was also instrumental in the discussion for the newly proposed event, and although Councilmembers and residents alike were supportive, many had concerns about another causeway closure. The major concern is the interruption of traffic flow, which is already at a peak during summer months. The Port Isabel city commission expressed similar concerns during their regular meeting last Tuesday. Though the SPI council had concerns, they recognized the positive impact on the economy and supported the resolution.
Also on the agenda was the sale of a tax note in an amount of over $3 million to complete Gulf Boulevard improvements. It was determined the money may also be used for side streets that have drainage issues that directly impact the boulevard. Current interest rates are low, and the City’s high bond ratings gave them a true interest rate of 1.7 percent, with payments averaging around $470,000 per year. As the council projected spending almost that much per year on improvements, they felt that it would better benefit the City to complete the improvements as quickly as possible. In addition, Convention Centre renovations are well on their way and are expected to be complete by July 16, barring any rain delays.
Finally, Environmental Health Director Victor Baldovinos gave a presentation on the City’s Anti-Litter Beach Initiative Program. The program focuses on education of beachgoers with City staff and the help of volunteer groups, but warnings and citations are also given out for glass and litter on the beach. As of June 29, the beach litter patrol has issued 126 citations and 12 warnings for glass on the beach and 19 citations and 73 warnings for litter.
Their recycling pilot program is still gaining traction, however recycling bins have been filled with as much as 80 percent non-recyclable materials. Staff continues to make adjustments as needed and hopes to increase awareness of recycling on the beach. In regards to the Anti-Litter program, Baldovinos said, “I have been here 12 years, and this is the cleanest I’ve ever seen the beach.”
The next meeting for the City Council will be held on July 15.
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