STEPHENVILLE (November 7, 2017) – A surprise decision came from the Stephenville City Council meeting tonight. In a divided vote, the council voted to remove the HOT (hotel occupancy tax) funding from the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce as of Jan. 1, 2018.
All council members except Mark McClinton and Alan Nix voted in favor of the motion.
“This is very premature,” Nix said during the discussion.
The HOT tax is estimated to be over $200,000 per year. This money previously went to the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of tourism. This fund is not the only source of funding for the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce.
The original motion was to extend the timeline from Dec. 31 to March 31 for the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce to negotiate a visitor center service with the city of Stephenville. During this time, the Chamber would develop a proposal for a new visitor’s center. The Chamber currently operates as Stephenville’s Visitors’ Bureau.
Stephenville Chamber of Commerce board of director member Greg Bruner said the time extension would also allow for a transition or hand-off of the visitor’s center from the Chamber if needed.
Instead of approving that motion, city council member Sherry Zachery made the motion to cancel HOT tax funds to the Chamber and to create a new visitor/tourism bureau. That motion was later amended to only focus on the hotel taxes.
Trussell stated she was “disappointed” in the Chamber due to their “lack of enthusiasm” regarding the proposal process thus far. According to the council woman, the Chamber has only one advertisement for Stephenville in hotels and those papers also have information on other communities.
“Tourism would never be a goal of the Chamber,” Trussell said. “The Chamber would always put the Chamber first.”
The mayor expressed concern over the decision because the council has not defined what they want or expect from a visitor’s center. The council has discussed a visitor’s center in the past, but has not defined whether the city or a private business would run the visitor’s center. They also have not defined what the visitor’s center would do.
Zachery stated the council needed to vote on this decision in order to determine a direction for the visitor’s center and this was the basis for a “good plan.”
The council agreed to discuss the visitor’s center at a meeting on Nov. 14.
Unless a decision is made before Jan. 1, Stephenville will have no visitor center in 2018.
“If there is no visitor’s center past January 1, that isn’t putting the citizens in a good position,” Bruner said.