Split vote brings relief on motel tax

RFA’s request denied in park ‘memorandum’
Reporter Editor

May election winners Melody Dawson, Doug Calame take oath. 
Reporter/Mike Brown May election winners Melody Dawson, Doug Calame take oath. Reporter/Mike Brown On a 3-2 vote Monday the Rockdale City Council reversed itself and lowered the city’s hotel-motel tax after being told by business owners the lodging industry “is in worse shape than in the Great Depression.”

It was one of several split votes. On a 5-1 ballot, the council okayed a memorandum of understanding with the Rockdale Fair Association which did not contain “protection” language sought by the RFA board.

That vote came after some council members expressed regrets over what they view as a deteriorating relationship between the city and Fair Association.

MOTEL TA X—In August, 2010, on a 4- 2 vote, the council raised the city’s hotel-motel tax from 5.5 to 7 percent to generate more funds for the Chamber of Commerce to use in promoting Rockdale-area events.

Six motel owners came to Monday’s meeting asking the tax be reduced to its original 5.5 percent.

Joan Ratliff of Rainbow Courts said the request is endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce.

“We need help,” Ratliff said. “We (motel owners) are paying for it. We’re cutting staff. We’re not employing people.”

Mitul Patel of Best Western said motel business in Rockdale is down “40 to 60 percent.”

“ We’ve had senior citizens (from the north) drive 40 miles to Giddings and stay (in motels) there,” he said.

“ That’s the direction they’re going anyway,” Ratliff said.

‘SOCIALISM’—Some council members questioned if the 1.5 percent increase has been a major factor in the business dropoff.

Council member Joyce Dalley noted while Giddings’ overall motel tax rate is 11 percent (including the 7-percent state rate) and Rockdale’s is 13, overall motel rates are higher in Giddings.

She said tax rates in Hearne and Taylor are 15 percent.

Some council members asked for documentation from the hotel owners, questioning customers, to obtain data revealing if the tax increase was a factor in loss of business.

That didn’t sit well with Councilman Allan Miller.

“I don’t want (city government) to get so involved with a business that I want to hear what your customers are saying,” he said. “That’s socialism to me.”

“We tried it and it didn’t work,” Miller said. “I’d rather have 5.5 percent than 7 percent of nothing.”

The motion, to enact the tax decrease by ordinance, as soon as possible, passed 3-2, with Miller, Doug Calame and Melody Dawson voting in favor, Dalley and Toby Johnson against.

Councilman Willie Phillips, who participated in earlier votes, had left the meeting before the hotel-motel vote was taken.

RFA ISSUE—After several months of discussion the council okayed its first-ever memorandum of understanding with the Rockdale Fair Association (RFA).

RFA officials had sought language they said would protect the group against situations like a 2005 council decision allowing construction of a skate park on property purchased by the RFA for use as overflow parking.

That language was not in the memorandum.

City Attorney Michelle Lehmkuhl said such future situations— in which RFA feared it might not be able to pay off notes without access to property or buildings— could be handled through amendments.

“I wish we could do something to rectify the problem,” Dalley said, noting she felt the RFA views the 2005 decision as a “breach of trust.”

“But I don’t have a solution,” she said. “I don’t know how we ‘kiss and make up’.”

“Maybe we should have located it (the skate park) somewhere else,” Calame said.

“They (RFA) feel like we burned them,” Miller said.

Mayor Larry Jones saw the situation differently. “I’m a little disappointed in the RFA,” he said. “They seem to be taking a tremendous amount of umbrage.”

Jones said the 2005 skate park decision was an attempt to get more usage out of some property “which was only used one day per year.”

“Did it work out? No, but not everything does,” he said.

“How many fair board members live in the city of Rockdale?” Phillips asked. “How many pay city taxes?”

The memorandum of understanding passed 5-1 with Johnson, Calame, Miller, Dalley and Dawson voting in favor and Phillips against.

N EW PRO T EM— I n ye t another split vote, Jones broke a 2-2 tie and essentially named Calame the new mayor pro tem, replacing Miller.

Dalley and Phillips had voted for Miller w ith Johnson and Dawson favoring Calame.

Neither of the nominees voted. The mayor breaks tie votes.

Jones voted for Calame, saying he had voted for Miller last year when the identical situation happened, a 2-2 mayor pro tem vote involving the same two nominees.

In other business, the council:

•Waspresentedawritten update by Gary Griesbach, Municipal Development District board chair, on efforts to land a YMCA for Rockdale.

• Took no action on a proposed rate increase settlement with Oncor after a motion to discuss the settlement died for lack of a second.

• Discussed a water meter problem with Ronnie Wiley who said his December reading was triple the normal number.

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