New tourism board awards first tax money
The new City of Rockdale Tourism Committee made its first award of money from the city’s hotel-motel tax Thursday, approving $4,000 for the Girls Softball League to prepare its field for a July 15-19 state tourney.
The league had asked for a total of $13,480 and committee members seemed in the mood to award more but were unsure of their authority under complex state guidelines governing administration of the tax.
C ommit tee members a lso approved a contract with the Orasi firm, which will be an “idea source” for events and strategies designed to bring tourism, and subsequent overnight visitors, to Rockdale.
TOURNEY— Committee members were presented a 31-page handout, “What Cities Need to Know to Administer Municipal Hotel Occupancy Taxes.” by the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association.
The board referred frequently to those guidelines during their discussions.
The GSL’s request, submitted by association president Pete Rubio III asked for the following:
Diamond Pro (line of professional groundskeeping products) to condition fields, $4,000; redo Field 3 backstops, $3,000; finish dugouts, $1,500; breakaway bases, $2,300; replace nets on batting cage, $1,200; replace field lighting fixtures, $1,480.
‘ HOME RUN’— Joan Ratliff, board chair, said it was her interpretation of the guidelines that hotel-motel tax funds could be used for events, such as the tourney, but not for “infrastructure,” items and said she wasn’t sure exactly which categories the league’s requests fell into.
Rubio estimated past state tourney events held in Rockdale have drawn up to 1,000 out-oftown visitors and anticipates a similar turnout this year.
“If they get 1,000 and half that number stays (overnight in Rockdale), that’s a home run,” board member Kit Worley said.
Rubio said the GSL had recently sustained some setbacks, noting that a spring thunderstorm blew over one of the field’s light poles.
The league is presently in the process of getting the pole put back up and its light fixtures re-installed.
A bid on that project was included in the GSL’s request to the committee.
Rubio said the league is also trying to resurrect a tee-ball field which had deteriorated over the years. He noted that if Rockdale could host state tee-ball tourneys even more visitors would be drawn to town, benefiting motels, restaurants and other businesses.
The city owns the land at the GSL complex—which was formerly the site of a landfill—but the league installed and maintains the facilities.
Some board members asked if funding GSL requests deemed as “infrastructure” might be justified if the GSL would be willing to keep records showing what percentage of out-of-town visitors attended tournaments.
Members also wanted to know what possible penalties might be if the funds were “misappropriated” and also who would challenge awarding of hotel-motel tax funds to volunteer groups like the GSL.
Consensus was to wait for more information on the legal issues but to award the $4,000 for field conditioning, subject to approval by the city council, which was granted on Monday.
Worley made the motion to approve and the vote was unanimous of the five members present, with Ratliff, Worley, Michelle Morgan, Kara Clore and Sharon Cloud voting in favor.
ORASI—The council studied copies of a proposed agreement between Orasi and the city, made some minor adjustments and discussed terms.
Under terms of the contract the city will pay a monthly retainer of $1,500 during the 12-month contract.
That’s for ideas and concepts. Actual costs of the events which may come from Orasi’s input would be funded from the hotel-motel tax.
The Tourism Committee would have final say over any Orasi proposal, assuming the city council endorses the committee’s decision.
The contract was approved 4-0- 1 with Clore abstaining.
The city council endorsed that decision on Monday.
See editorial page 4A.