By Michael Sudhalter
Have you ever looked at the bottom of a hotel receipt and noticed that a 6 percent charge known as the “Hotel Occupancy Tax” (HOT) and wondered where the funds ended up?
In the State of Texas, the HOT goes to local taxing authorities like cities and counties that have very specific guidelines for re-utilizing the funds.
Generally, the funds must be used to “put heads in beds” of the hotels.
Cities or counties can’t be used for general purposes like repairing potholes or fixing sidewalks.
Missouri City is a little bit late to the game because the city of 67,000 residents has two hotels – both of which opened within the last four years – La Quinta in 2012 and Hampton Inn in 2013. Both hotels are located along Hwy. 6.
Since 2012, Missouri City has accumulated $486,289.85 in HOT, but last year, the city council began discussing a plan to put the dollars to use.
Public and private organizations can apply for a specific amount of money, but they must be able to ensure that it will result in visitors staying in one or both of the Missouri City hotels.
When visitors stay at Missouri City hotels, they often spend money dining at local restaurants and patronizing other businesses in the city.
The city can also identify organizations and events that may bring visitors to the city.
Recently, the Elkins High Band Booster Club was the first group approved for HOT funds – with a $3,000 approval.
They were recommended by Mercedes Borobia, General Manager of the Hampton Inn, who is familiar with the group.
Elkins is hosting a band competition next month, and the $3,000 will go toward travel expenses for the competition’s judges, with the stipulation that the judges lodge at La Quinta or Hampton Inn.
The city can only spend up to 15 percent of the HOT funds to one organization or group, and there’s a 50 percent limit on using the funds for Business & Convention purposes.
Both of the hotels are located within District C, and District C council member Anthony Maroulis said he is optimistic that the city will find ways to bring more visitors to the city.
He’s encouraged by the fact that new City Manager Anthony Snipes has experience with HOT, having worked in that capacity during his time as an Assistant City Manager in Austin.
Maroulis said he’d like to see the city council work with the Parks Department to create an annual event, similar to Pasadena’s Strawberry Festival or Hempstead’s Watermelon Festival that will bring in visitors – many of whom will stay at the two hotels.
Research has shown that most visitors to Missouri City come from Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio, so placing advertising dollars in regional and state travel publications counts as money that can be spent under HOT.
Maroulis said the council must prove to be good stewards of HOT funds, because other cities have misused them and were forced to return them.
If the city council is successful with distributing HOT funds to the right entities, it may create demand for more events, and perhaps more hotels inside the city limits.
“It’s not costing us anything to do this and there’s no infringement on taxpayers, unless the (Missouri City) taxpayers are staying at the hotel,” said Missouri City At-Large council member Jerry Wyatt said.