• November 27, 2014

New Bell County hotel occupancy tax not good idea

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Posted: Sunday, July 27, 2014 4:30 am

Will Rogers once said, “The difference between death and taxes is death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.” Fortunately, the Texas Legislature only meets every two years and prides itself on keeping taxes low.

Unfortunately, some see the State Capitol as a place to pass the buck, quite literally. That’s why I’m taking this opportunity to address a growing issue in Bell County.

The Bell County Expo Center has served as host for countless events in Central Texas since 1987. While renovations to the facility are certainly understandable, I’m hesitant to back a plan floated by Bell County’s judge and commissioners.

For the past several months, I’ve been pressured to sponsor legislation to impose an additional hotel occupancy tax at the county level on those who visit Bell County in order to pay for the Expo’s improvements.

A new county hotel occupancy tax, which the county is currently not authorized to collect, would come on top of the 13 percent currently being charged.

Bell County is unique. While the Expo sits along the Interstate 35 corridor, the largest population base of Bell County resides in the Fort Hood area.

One of my greatest honors and privileges as a legislator is to represent the brave men and women in uniform who give so selflessly.

It’s my fear that a new hotel occupancy tax would impact the friends and family who are in Bell County to visit the soldiers at Fort Hood; visitors who likely have no intention of visiting the Expo.

Like a bad houseguest, taxes can be hard to get rid of.

Once renovations to the Expo are complete, it’s likely that the tax will remain in place long after the renovations have been paid off.

When I ran to represent Senate District 24, I ran with the promise that I wouldn’t impose new and unnecessary taxes on my constituents.

Texas has a rich history of embracing local control. That concept places an emphasis on allowing local leaders to implement public policy that best fits their needs. Should county leaders wish to renovate the Expo using other means, they have the ability to do so and can take that vote to impose additional taxes or fees.

I’ve indicated to the county commissioners that if they want me to file legislation, they first need to gain the approval of all the municipalities, chambers of commerce and economic development groups in Bell County.

If those entities can reach consensus and agree that a hotel occupancy tax is the approach they want to take, I’ll entertain the idea. To date, however, I have yet to see unilateral support to file legislation to create a new tax.

As an elected official, I place great importance on the will of my constituents and I act accordingly. If it’s their will to create a new tax at the State Capitol, I’ll listen.

Except for a few individuals, the silence throughout Bell County speaks for itself.

Sen. Troy FRASER represents Senate District 24, which includes Bell, Coryell and Lampasas counties.

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