A nearly hour-long discussion by members of the Stephenville City Council Tuesday culminated in a stunning vote that stripped the Chamber of Commerce of its hotel (HOT) tax to the tune of $240,000 annually.
It was a move that appeared to stun not only the city administrator and mayor, but Chamber President July Danley and three board members who had accompanied her to the meeting.
The funding will effectively end Dec. 31, setting up the city to assume operations of a visitors center that does not yet exist.
The city and Chamber have been talking for months about developing a contract that would set guidelines and expectations on how the HOT tax would be spent.
The 4-cent sales tax the city has given the Chamber for years totals about $240,000 — $60,000 per cent.
After telling the council about a meeting with Danley, Chamber board member Greg Bruner and council member Sherry Zachery on Nov. 2, City Administrator Allen Barnes made a motion to extend funding through March, giving both sides time to reach a contractual agreement.
But the motion failed to get a second and Zachery made her own motion to stop the HOT funding effective Dec. 31 and begin making plans to develop a city-run visitors center.
“I don’t think it’s right to extend (the Chamber’s) hope of funding,” Zachery said. “The best way to move forward is to pull funding from the Chamber as of December 31.”
Zachery called the move a “cost-saving” measure and said she would like to see the city spend the roughly quarter million dollars from the HOT tax on improvements to the Stephenville Historical House Museum while bringing in new events that would entice visitors to the area.
Council member Carla Trussell voiced strong support for Zachery’s proposal saying she is disappointed the Chamber doesn’t have a brochure showcasing Stephenville and that they haven’t shown any enthusiasm for making changes to how it handles the city’s tourism.
“Their goal is not compatible with ours,” Trussell said.
But not everyone agreed.
Councilman Alan Nix said there were too many unanswered questions on how the city would pay for a tourism center and how and where it would operate.
“This is a surprise to me,” Nix said.
In the end the council voted to defund the Chamber with Nix and Mark McClinton voting against it.
Following Tuesday’s vote, Danley said she was “floored” by the decision, and on Wednesday sent the E-T a statement.
“The Stephenville Chamber of Commerce has enjoyed partnering with the city to provide visitor services and recruit events that have brought more people and ultimately dollars to Stephenville,” Danley said. “Our board of directors will be meeting this week to discuss the action taken by the council and make decisions moving forward.”