By JESSICA CRAWFORD • Daily Leader
After a rather lengthy discussion between Jay Bhakta, owner of Quality Inn, and the city commission Tuesday evening, an understanding was reached that all must communicate better with one another – hotel owners, tourism board and commission.
Following Bhakta’s invalid petition, he still addressed the commission with a proposal of lowering the imminent transient tax from 6 percent to 5. However, according to commissioners, it was a bit late in the game to be opposing the already passed 2-percent increase in the tax.
“Before this ever came to the commission, when another commissioner and I went to a CTB (Convention and Tourism Board) meeting, we were told we were going to get crucified. We did not,” Mayor Joe Denoyer explained. “I thought it was a very good meeting. We just presented our proposal of raising the transient guest tax, and we were met with an overwhelmingly positive response.
“But we didn’t stop there. Myself and another commissioner went back to a second meeting and explained what we were wanting to do. Once again, we were met with a positive response,” he continued. “Then it was put on an agenda for first reading, nobody showed up to oppose it. Then it was put on the agenda for a second reading, nobody showed up to oppose it – then it passed.
“And now that it has been passed, all of this is coming up,” he added. “I just think it is kind of late in the ball game to do this. With all these additional funds there are some great things we can do in this city. This is not going to become a slush fund, there are guidelines that have to be followed.”
Bhakta, himself a member of the tourism board, was asked by vice mayor Doug LaFreniere why he had not attended even 50 percent of the meetings since he was appointed.
“Do you understand your role as a board member?” he asked. “Your role is to bring suggestions. Have you brought any to Sally? We appointed you, as commissioners, and I expect you to go into those board meetings with ideas and action plans for the director.”
Bhakta continued to direct blame to Convention and Tourism Director Sally Fuller for the lack of a game plan for the extra funds will bring in.
“But Sally should have a good action plan before – with how we will spend this,” he said. “If CTB can have an action plan and show it to motel owners on the other side. If it is benefiting our business, then we will do it.
LaFreniere, along with commissioner Dave Harrison, explained the process of an appropriate time for an action plan.
“You can’t have an action plan until it is passed,” LaFreniere stated. “Sally can’t make an action plan, it’s like counting your chickens before they hatch.”
“It even goes further than that because this community has had a history of doing things without having the funds available,” Harrison said. “So until the funds are collected, you really don’t know how much money you have to spend. So, this concept of how you are going to spend the money before you have the money is a hard leap for me to make sometimes.”
When asked if Bhakta had gone to Fuller with suggestions to bring further attractions to Liberal he replied, “Not so far, we have discussed we need to have more communications.”
LaFreniere responded to Bhakta’s statement with a suggestion.
“As a board member, you know what I would have done? I would have brought a proposal to Sally saying, ‘for all motels that want renovations in their lobby, they want a $2,500 grant,’” he suggested.
“These are things you could do with this money if you would bring it to the director as a board member.
“That is what your funds are for too, to promote your motels to bring people into the city to stay at your motels,” he continued. “I got disheartened because we appointed you and you have attended three meetings out of the last eight? Decisions are made by those who show up, OK? So that is why I am asking you, can you bring something positive to the table?”
“Of course I can,” Bhakta responded.
Bhakta asked the commission how much money would actually be generated by the 2 percent raise.
“For each percent that it is increased, that is approximately a revenue of $50,000,” city manager Mark Hall answered. “And that is just an estimate.”
Hall continued to inform Bhakta that 1 percent of the tax must still go to the state.
As a final suggestion from Harrison, he asked Bhakta why motel owners don’t state any tax information on their billboards warning customers of the amount of taxation. He was met with no response.
When all was said and done, Fuller stood along side Bhakta at the podium in an agreement to communicate in order to appropriately disperse any collected funds in order to better serve the City of Liberal.