By Hayley Kappes
Killeen Daily Herald
The proposed 2 percent tax increase on lodging properties continues to stir debate in Bell County.
A 13 percent hotel/motel tax currently exists for hotels in the county, the maximum allowed by state law, with a portion of that going to the city and state.
The proposed tax increase would contribute to much-needed improvements to the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, said Executive Director Tim Stephens.
The upgrades would include a 150,000-square-foot expansion for an indoor dirt arena, more exhibition space and additional hookups for equestrian and livestock shows.
Stephens said the expansion would catapult the Expo Center into a larger market, competing with state and national facilities in attracting popular events and conventions, and pose great economic impact for the county.
The center owns 40 acres to the west of the complex and would expand on that land. Stephens said the Expo Center is in one of the best locations in Texas.
Minnesota-based Convention Sport & Leisure performed a feasibility study of the Expo Center's intended expansion.
The study found that the Expo Center's expansion would garner an additional $5.7 million in visitor spending, a 44 percent increase from the current amount.
"The study showed it's a needed project that will benefit the whole county," Stephens said. "It won't affect everyone equally, but it will be positive for everyone. I encourage locals in the tourism business to take a big picture look. The improvements will mean a big economic boom for the county and everyone would receive some benefit."
Judge Jon Burrows said he wants more economic development for the county, and expanding the Expo Center will do just that.
"I think it would create a significant impact to business in the county as a whole," Burrows said.
Some Killeen hotel representatives aren't buying it.
"The general consensus here with other hotels is that we're opposed to the tax primarily because we don't see benefit to us," said Enna Goodsby, general manager of Shilo Inn. "We don't get a lot of business from the Expo Center typically."
Tim Reed, general manager of the Holiday Inn on East Central Texas Expressway, said he and other members of the Tri-City Lodging Association, for which he is president of, oppose the tax increase.
The association's members consist of hotels in Killeen, Harker Heights and Copperas Cove.
"The economic impact in Killeen is limited because of the way the county is split up," Reed said. "It's one of those unfortunate things because everybody likes the Expo Center. The plans look great, but looking at it from a business sense, we can't support it because we're not going to see the benefit."
As of last summer, there were 37 hotels in Killeen with 784 suites and 1,719 rooms, according to the Killeen Chamber of Commerce.
"We received a tremendous response in opposition of this tax from hoteliers," said Scott Joslove, president of the Texas Hotel Association.
The organization represents all lodging owners and operators in Texas to the state legislature.
After county commissioners presented the tax increase to the association, Joslove and his group sent e-mails to every hotel manager and owner in Bell County informing them of the tax proposal and asked if they were for or against it.
"Every hotelier, with the exception of one, who responded to the e-mail said they opposed the tax increase," Joslove said. "They just don't feel the Expo Center will provide much business to hotels so why provide?"
He said every respondent from Salado and Temple opposed the tax increase, and there was very little response from Belton hotels.
Joslove said the association will support Bell County hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in their opposition of the tax increase when the bill comes before the Legislature.
No such bill has been filed yet.
Contact Hayley Kappes at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559.