Editor: Shannon Cottongame
May 25, 2022
The Hill County Commissioners Court met in a special session Tuesday, May 17, and approved a software contract to help the county collect hotel occupancy taxes on the growing number of home-based lodging options. The court also discussed negotiations regarding the sale of the county annex on Franklin Street in Hillsboro.
Hill County adopted a hotel/motel occupancy tax in 2008, with proceeds supporting efforts to attract tourism.
With the increase in private property owners opening homes to guests through services like Airbnb and Vrbo, ensuring that all hotel/motel occupancy taxes are collected has become challenging for the county. Bed and breakfasts, houses, apartments and other private properties leasing space to visitors must collect taxes in the same way that a hotel or motel collects taxes from its guests.
Hotel owners, operators or managers must collect state hotel occupancy taxes from guests who rent a room costing $15 or more each day.
Local hotel taxes apply to sleeping rooms costing $2 or more each day. The local county occupancy tax is three percent for Hill County and is due quarterly. The Hill County percentage applies to all authorized entities outside of the city jurisdictions.
The county auditor’s office presented a proposal from GovOS, which offers a lodging tax portal designed to simplify filing and tax collection for jurisdictions and taxpayers.
The company will identify locations that should be collecting occupancy taxes and then collect and remit the taxes for the county.
There are only 21 such locations paying the required tax now, and County Judge Justin Lewis said that a cursory search revealed at least 60 that should be paying.
To date this year, those taxes have amounted to just over $20,000, which is estimated to be about one-third what should have been received.
The contract with GovOS will come with an initial cost of $19,675, and an annual fee of approximately $12,000 will be due for each year the county renews the contract.
Commissioners also voted to allow Judge Lewis to proceed with negotiations regarding the sale of the county annex on Franklin Street.
Lewis said that the county has received an offer on the property sooner than expected, although it has been the plan to sell the building eventually with offices moving to the Covington Street annex when renovations are completed.
The judge said that any contract presented to the court will take into account that the Covington Street annex will not be ready for the elections and tax offices until early next year. He said that he plans to negotiate a deal to allow the offices to stay in their current locations until they can move to Covington Street.
Any contract negotiated will go back before commissioners for review and approval.
An amendment to the county’s contract with Nextlink was approved to allow for the installation of two additional towers at 218 North Waco Street and 406 Hall Street at a cost of $18,200. Last month, the court approved the original contract with Nextlink to upgrade the county’s communications systems.
The court also canvassed the results of the May 7 constitutional amendment election. Elections Administrator Aaron Torres reported that the turnout was a little over seven percent and systems ran smoothly.
In open forum, the court heard from Ashley Fuqua, who expressed concerns regarding Hill County Precinct 1 Commissioner Andrew Montgomery’s handling of a previous Facebook page he operated.
Fuqua said that she came before the court last year with concerns about the state of a dilapidated road near her home, and she later made a comment about the situation on the commissioner’s Hill County Precinct 1 Facebook page.
She said that she was blocked from the page in violation of her First Amendment rights, as it is unlawful for a government official to censor individuals on a social media page that represents their office.
Fuqua said that she then submitted an open records request to obtain evidence from the Facebook page, but the records from the deleted page were no longer available. She told the court that she believes that the issue could be both a civil and criminal case, as government records are required to be preserved.
She said that she filed a report regarding tampering with public records with the sheriff’s office and feels that it has been stalled. She stated that the Office of the Attorney General did not want to investigate the matter and a Texas Ranger recused himself.
Fuqua said she wanted to bring the matter to the court’s attention and voice her concerns.
Another resident of Precinct 1, Tim Garcia, also spoke to the court. He first expressed his thanks to the sheriff’s office and Deputy Quinn for assistance they provided his family the previous weekend. He then said that he feels that Commissioner Montgomery is a “great person as an individual” but he expressed concerns about roads and requests for work not being addressed.
The court’s next regular meeting will be held Tuesday, May 24, at the Hill County Courthouse.