The Wilbarger County Commissioners instituted a new Hotel Occupancy Tax as part of Monday’s commission meeting. It was the first meeting for new commissioners Billy Taylor and Scott Inglish, who both stated during their campaigns last year that they would vote for the tax to be instituted if elected.
The vote to enact the tax was unanimous, on a motion from Commissioner Josh Patterson. The tax, at 2 percent on hotel rooms, will go to fund tourism activity in the county. Judge Greg Tyra said the commission will decide at a later date how the money will be disbursed, but the tax is in effect immediately. With state and a City of vernon hotel tax already in place, the new tax on local hotel rooms in vernon will be 15 percent — and that irked local hotel owners.
Judge Tyra said that the hotel occupancy tax was “paid by tourists, for tourism.”
An effort to approve the tax, which was authorized by SB 2137 in the Texas legislature two years ago, had been tabled last year after opposition by former commissioner John Wright, who was defeated by Taylor in the election. Wright was in attendance at Monday’s commission meeting and voiced his continued opposition to the tax.
Wright was one of five members of the public that spoke against the tax.
Joe Rogers, owner of Vernon’s Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn, said that there was competition between Vernon and Childress for hotel guests, and that adding 2 percent to the cost, would mean the local hotels would lose occupancy.
“If they can save a few bucks staying in Childress, they’ll stay in Childress. I wish you wouldn’t do it,” Rogers told the commission.
Joanie Rogers also spoke against the tax: “Business is down since the pandemic, expense are up.”
She said that while she supported bringing tourism events to Vernon, the events need to eventually be self-supporting, the additional tax money would just go to further the events dependency upon tax money.
Gary Branin, who serves on the city’s tourism board and is manager of the Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn, said that the timing is bad, as all of the local hotels were suffering from the pandemic.
Branin said enacting the tax was “making a hard situation even more hard.”
Former state representative Rick Hardcastle, the managing consultant of the Vernon Business Development Corporation spoke in favor of enacting the tax.
Hardcastle said the city had lost events each year for the past 4 years because they could not compete in enticing events. He said most of those events put “heads in beds.”
“Yes, it is another tax, but it is paid by the traveling public,” Hardcastle said.
Vernon City Manager Marty Mangum also spoke, saying he would like to see the city and county pool their hotel tax funds and cooperate in the disbursement.
“The city’s main concern is that we work together to maximize the benefits,” Mangum said.
A couple of others also spoke.
Commissioner Josh Patterson then addressed the crowd: “No doubt there are going to be negative effects, but I think the positive outweighs the negative.”
He then made a motion to approve the tax and it was unanimously approved.