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Travis County could take long path to hotel/motel tax

Thursday, September 20, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Travis County’s vetting of a potential hotel/motel tax for the region could feature a six-step process that would run through early next year.


That’s if Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt’s colleagues agree with a pitch she’s offered along with Commissioner Ron Davis in a memo sent to key county officials and the rest of the commissioners court. The memo offers a path that would result in the creation of a hotel/motel tax citizen’s advisory committee and the potential employment of a consultant to help with issues related to the tax about January 30 of next year.


However, before commissioners could make a move in any direction, Davis put his foot on the brake. He requested that the county wait to see the results of a look at the possible use of the Travis Expo Center as one of the potential hotel/motel tax efforts.


Eckhardt asked if this might be back by the court’s September 25 meeting. The county’s executive in charge of planning and budget said that might be a bit ambitious.


In the memo, Eckhardt and Davis offer their colleagues a history lesson. They write that the use of a hotel/motel and short-term car rental tax to offset the expenditure of property taxes on venues and related infrastructure is something that the county has considered “off and on” since 2002. They suggest that, until now, “a cursory cost/benefit analysis has been sufficient to put the idea back on the shelf for future consideration” but that with increased tourist activity in Travis County, it could be time for “a more detailed cost/benefit analysis.”


Last week, Eckhardt told Austin-American Statesman reporter Farzad Mashhood that the coming November Formula 1 race is an example of such an activity.


Though Davis’ name was on the memo, Eckhardt was the one who presented it to her colleagues on Tuesday. The process she proposed would include a review of research already performed by the county on a hotel/motel tax, an investigation into what potential legal and/or legislative boundaries might exist, a review of how other counties implement a hotel/motel tax, the evaluation of “straw man” proposals for specific venues and infrastructure projects that Travis County could apply the new taxes to, a look at start-up costs – including the employment of a consultant – and the creation of the citizen’s committee as well as a timeline for the whole effort.


Eckhardt and Davis suggested that a team of three county employees – Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator Deece Eckstein, County Executive Leslie Browder, and the county executive for Transportation and Natural Resources Steve Manilla – take on the task of evaluating the situation. They added that that trio could be joined by County Purchasing Officer Cyd Grimes and Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols.

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