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2012-04-15 / Front Page

County struggles to collect hotel tax

By Tim Olmeda tolmeda@king-ranch.com

Kleberg County officials are looking at ways, which could include legal action, to collect hotel/motel tax revenue from local businesses that haven’t paid the required tax over the past few years.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Ro- meo Lomas said some businesses have gone years without paying the hotel/motel tax to the county, which impacts the county’s ability to fund its Parks Department. County officials said money generated from the hotel/motel tax is allocated specifically to that department for maintenance and cleanup at the county’s parks.

“We’re going to go after those people who don’t pay their (hotel/motel) tax,” Lomas said. “They’re actually already collecting them from the people, so they’re (keeping) that money. It’s not that we want them to pay out of their own pocket – they’re already charging those individuals who are staying in that hotel or motel.

“We’re just saying, ‘Pass on the money that belongs to us,’” he added.

According to the Texas Comptroller’s website, individuals are charged by local hotel owners on rooms costing $2 or more. From July 2011 to March 26, the county received nearly $40,000 in hotel/motel tax revenue from local businesses, according to figures provided by Kleberg County Treasurer Priscilla Alaniz-Cantu.

Lomas said the county could look at hiring a local attorney to notify business owners who aren’t paying their share of the hotel/motel tax back to the county. If those individuals don’t pay, then a lawsuit could be filed, he added.

Parks Director Susan Ivy said the county has sent letters to business owners who haven’t paid the hotel/motel tax revenue to the county, but the move has done little to persuade compliance due to the lack of legal ramifications.

“I got a call from one person who said, ‘I’m just not going to pay,’ so there needs to be some kind of legal action that’s taken, and I don’t have the authority to do that,” Ivy said.

Pct. 2 Commissioner Chuck Schultz expressed frustration at the unwillingness of some local businesses to fulfill their financial obligation to the county and its taxpayers.

“It’s not fair for some people to be paying taxes, and they’ve done their duty, and other people are not paying their taxes on purpose,” Schultz said. “It’s not fair.”

County Judge Juan Escobar said the county would do whatever was necessary to bring those businesses that aren’t paying into compliance, even if that means taking legal action. He said the county would likely conduct an audit to determine the names of those businesses and also how many of them there are.

“I just want the public to know we have been making an attempt to get these people to pay,” Escobar said.

In other county business:

• Commissioners approved the purchase of more than $3,000 in supplies to board up windows at the Kleberg County Courthouse and Probation Department. The move was deemed necessary after a window fell from the second floor of the courthouse in March and smashed onto an area normally occupied by courthouse employees and patrons.

The Texas Historical Commission must approve a permanent fix for any repairs or renovations to the windows and courthouse.

The county has $10,000 available for the project, officials said.

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