The Devine City Council voted to formally join nonprofit economic development group Go Medina County last Tuesday, Sept. 19, to the tune of $4,350 taken from the lodging tax fund, a decision that left less money for the Devine Chamber of Commerce.
Money in the lodging tax fund is legally restricted to use of things that promote the City. In recent years, some or all of the money in the that fund has been given to the Chamber to subsidize the annual Fall Festival.
Last year, Council disbursed $10,000 from the lodging fund to the Chamber. According to City Financial Advisor Mary Badillo, City staffers who worked the 2016 Fall Festival were paid close to $5,000 of overtime, making the City’s contribution to the Festival nearly $15,000.
That sum has recently come under fire from Council members as work was being done on the upcoming budget for Fiscal Year 2017-2018.
Go Medina County was launched by the county government and local business leadership in January 2016 to encourage more businesses to expand in or relocate to Medina County. The City was first formally invited to join the group in August 2016. City Council postponed a decision at that time, as well as in September 2016 and on May 16 of this year.
At that meeting, Mayor Bill Herring suggested that the City’s membership in Go Medina be contingent upon the County’s participation in a tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) in Devine. After the County Commissioners agreed to join the TIRZ at a 70/30 split, the City voted to join Go Medina in a Special meeting on May 23.
“As of now we have given tentative approval [to join Go Medina], but this will be the final decision for at least one year,” Herring said on Sept. 19.
Councilman Cory Thompson questioned if using money from the lodging tax fund, which contained $7,200, would affect Chamber President Phillip Fitch’s upcoming request for funding for the 2017 Festival.
“If you take this money out of the hotel/motel tax, then yes, that will reduce the amount we have,” Herring said, adding that Council could specify where the money for the Go Medina dues came from.
Thompson asked if the money had to specified to come from a certain fund in the motion. After receiving an affirmative from Herring and City Administrator Dora Rodriguez, Thompson said, “I’ll let somebody else make the motion and see where they want the money to come from.”
A David Espinosa-Kathy Wilkins motion to join Go Medina for one year and pay the $4,350 in dues from the lodging tax fund passed unanimously, following support from Steve Lopez, David Valdez, and Thompson.
With the Go Medina dues spoken for, $2,850 was left in the lodging tax fund when Fitch formally requested money on behalf of the Chamber. Rodriguez pointed out that the Chamber’s telephone bill averages around $300 a month, which is also paid for through the money in the lodging fund.
“Last year y’all provided $10,000 in funding to the Chamber, and the previous year I believe it was $7,500,” Fitch said.
“On the Chamber funds, how much money did you have left over from last year after all expenses?” Lopez asked.
“We had about $4,000 left over from the Fall Festival,” Fitch said, adding that the Chamber had hosted a golf tournament to raise money, and had also used some funds to provide free outdoor movies during the summer.
“Dora, have they ever provided a financial report to the City, or is that required?” Wilkins asked.
“No,” Rodriguez replied. “That’s up to y’all if y’all want to see their budget. I know from the past, they used to turn in their budget a long time ago.”
“A long time ago, and then it kind of got to a point where it just kind of dropped off and that was it,” Chamber member Sandra Herrera said.
Wilkins asked Fitch if the Chamber was asking for a certain amount of money.
“Actually, no,” Fitch said.
Badillo recommended that any motion to fund the Chamber be contingent upon maintaining a balanced budget.
“That way the City’s not locked into a dollar amount,” Badillo said.
City Accountant Denise Duffy pointed out that leaving $600, or two months of the phone bill, in the lodging fund would give the City flexibility to pay the bill.
“Why just two months?” Herring asked.
“Because normally by November we should be getting another installment on the hotel/motel tax, so that would keep us money in there to pay what we need to,” Duffy said.
“So we would not have to amend the budget already on that situation,” Herring said.
An Espinosa-Lopez motion to give the Chamber $2,250 from the lodging tax fund contingent upon a balanced budget passed 5-0.
By Marly Davis