County approves new CVB charter
By SCOTT AUST
Despite concerns raised by Convention and Visitors Bureau representatives, the Finney County Commission unanimously approved a new charter resolution on Monday that sets the level of the transient guest tax and how the money should be used.
The resolution sets the bed tax, collected from overnight guests at local hotels, at 6 percent; changes the name of Finney County Convention and Tourism Bureau to Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau; and includes language that would allow bed tax money to be used for economic development projects.
Randy Partington, county administrator, said the resolution had to be passed Monday, or sometime this month, because the transient guest tax would drop from its current 6 percent rate to 4 percent on Jan. 1.
All hotels, except the Sleep Inn and the new hotel Amro Samy is building with a water park and restaurant on the east side of Garden City, would have gone back to 4 percent. The two hotels were set at 6 percent several months ago as part of an agreement concerning the financing of the water park.
Approval of the resolution also allows $45,000 budgeted by CVB for the Finney County Economic Development Corp. to be allocated.
Partington said the resolution sets the bed tax at 6 percent indefinitely, and includes language about economic development.
"It doesn't say they have to give them money or they will give them money. It just gives them the option as a board to make that decision in whatever manner they deem fits our economic development purposes that are related to tourism," Partington said.
The previous resolution was in effect two years. Partington said the new resolution doesn't include a sunset this time, but the county commission can revisit it at any time under home rule provisions.
"I don't have a problem with this as long as we don't forget to revisit it periodically," Commissioner Roman Halbur said.
Kim Inderlied, CVB executive director, expressed strong reservations about two sections of the resolution and urged the commission to remove them.
Section 8(c) reads: "The revenues from said tax shall be expended for conventions and tourism and related expenditures as may be determined by the Board of County Commissioners which may include, but not be limited to an abatement of taxes, infrastructure improvement, or other lawful purposes determined by the Board of County Commissioners."
Section 8(e) reads: "Such funds shall be expended for convention and tourism promotion and other investments that promote the general economic welfare of Finney County, including the attraction of industry, as permitted by law.
Inderlied said she had no problems with the rest of the resolution.
"I absolutely understand why we need to pass the Charter resolution today ... but I really hesitate. We haven't had any notice for our attorneys to go through it. As far as our attorney, I spoke with him this morning, as far as he knew this was dead in the water, based on conversations he had with the county attorney. If you can't pass this without most of Section 8 stricken, I have some really severe problems with this," she said.
Partington indicated removing paragraph (c) could jeopardize the agreement the county made as part of the water park financing, which allowed bed tax funds to be diverted from two hotels for the project. Those bed tax funds are being used for infrastructure improvements to the water park, he said, as spelled out in the new charter resolution.
Inderlied felt the paragraph's language is too vague and should more clearly state that money could be used for infrastructure on project's whose purpose is to attract visitors to Garden City.
"I have no problem with 'abatement of taxes, infrastructure improvements or lawful purposes' as long as it's increasing visitors," she said.
Partington said the resolution doesn't mean bed tax money could be used for infrastructure other than a tourism related project, it's strictly for tourism and convention related purposes.
Commissioner Dave Jones said the dilemma of continuing to run the resolution back and forth between attorneys will mean the bed tax would go back to 4 percent next year.
"We've gotta act on it," Jones said.
Marc Kliewer, an attorney representing CVB Monday morning in place of Jim Mills, who normally represents CVB, said CVB only received notice of the resolution last Friday afternoon. As a result, Kliewer urged the commission to pass the resolution to keep the bed tax at 6 percent and change the CVB name, and then allow the regular attorney to communicate with the county counselor about the two paragraphs.
"If there are ambiguities involved in this, then the language could be sharpened up," Kliewer said.
Partington said county counselor Tom Burgardt, who was not present Monday, indicated he had talked to Mills about the resolution a few months ago.
"The way Tom explained it was the only issue they had was whether an Attorney General's opinion was needed on the economic development portion. Tom didn't feel it was needed, and he told me the county could go ahead with it," Partington said.
Kliewer said he doesn't know what communications occurred between Mills and Burgardt, but in his opinion, portions of the resolution are illegal as worded, especially paragraph (e). He said other counties have done the same thing but "that doesn't make it right; doesn't make it legal."
But the commission disagreed. Commissioner Dave Jones indicated he would follow what the county counselor says is legal.
Commissioner Larry Jones agreed.
"Tom says it's legal. That's what I'm going by," Jones said.
The commission approved the resolution unanimously. The Charter resolution takes effect 61 days after publication in the newspaper.