The Hope Tourism Commission met for their monthly meeting Tuesday, March 10, beginning with Catherine Cook who updated them on tax permits and payments. In February, Dominoes and Wal-Mart Deli were the only business that had not picked up their permits and the Board voted to send someone out to speak with them and then if they don’t take any action, issue citations to get them in compliance. Since that time, Wal-Mart Deli has picked up their permit and although Dominoes is paying the tax, they still have not received theirs.
Letters on past due payments for the tourism tax have been sent out to three accounts that have large outstanding balances. Little Caesars, El Agaves and Angelo’s. Cook stated that Las Agaves began making payments before the letters were mailed and are halfway to having their account caught up. Neither Little Caesars nor Angelo’s have paid in any tax revenue as of this week. Each business is collecting the tax, but have not paid in any dues to the city. Cook said that she has talked to the owner of Little Caesars several times about paying the tax, but he continues to say that it is difficult to make the payments because there is no online option to pay. Cook stated that that option could be developed, but it would take away from the tax revenue due to the fees associated with online payments. She ended by saying that the tourism tax permit seems to be headed in the direction it should be and other than those three accounts, payments are going well.
Cook also updated the board on the billboard advertising discussed in February. The board had asked her to negotiate the cost of the contract for a billboard on I30. She stated that they would not agree to anything under $800, but did take the cost down from $1000 to $850 for 4 weeks. She did talk to the representative about why some vendors get lower rates than other and found out that the more billboards you have, the lower the contract cost. There was discussion on what should be put on the billboard and decided that they would coordinate with the advertising company and graphic designers for different options. Mayor Montgomery stated that there is $20,000 in the budget for this and that they spent around $10,000 last year. Sharon Caldwell made a motion to try the billboard advertising for 1 year to see how it works. The motion was seconded and approved by the board.
A representative from Parks and Recreation presented some graphs and information on research done on tourism tax. She stated that she reached out to cities and towns the size of Hope in surrounding areas and around I30. She presented a graph to breakdown 2019 tourism tax to help see what is needed and what needs to be taken away. In her research, she found that the tourism tax charges in Hope seem to be right in the middle of the other towns.
Sharon Caldwell presented examples of 2 different banners for downtown. She stated that last year, they made an agreement with the Hope Downtown Network to split the cost of the banners with them, which came out to be $2,500 at that time. Caldwell said that the banners will be closer to $6,000 than the original $5,000 that was intended and asked for approval on the additional $500. Montgomery made a motion to approve the additional cost and the board voted to approve.
Summer Powell stated that Parks and Recreation will be holding several more ball tournaments this year than they have in the past and said they will be needing to purchase dirt for the ball fields. Powell said that she is researching information for that now and will be bringing a request before the board soon.
Gary Chambless asked if there had been any consideration on reducing the tourism tax to 1% for hotels when the Courthouse Tax goes in to effect. He stated that hotels already have to charge significantly more than the restaurants, therefore the amount of taxes consumers will have to pay will be much higher. When the courthouse tax is added, the hotel tax will total 14.5%. Charlton Luker stated that there was no change, consumers could potentially go to Texarkana to stay. He added that when a town has more to offer, people overlook things, but with nothing much to do they consider the cost. Luker stated that when competing with other towns that offer so much more already, anything that is negative on a hotel could be an impact in revenue for everyone. Mayor Montgomery stated that doing away with 1% of the tax from the hotels would be a deduction of about $62,000 in revenue and that he was afraid that large of an amount would hurt the budget. He did say he understood the concern, but he didn’t think it would be that big of an impact since other towns are at a 3% tax rate already. Trevor Coffee suggested only doing a ½ cent instead of a 1 cent reduction since that would help the budget. After discussion, the Coffee suggested the issue be tabled and be revisited at a later date.
The April Tourism meeting will be announced at a later date.