It was almost a full house in the Brownfield City Council chambers this morning as citizens and city officials took time to be a part of an important meeting.
After the first four items of business were taken care of, the fifth item was to canvass the city election and certify the results to declare the winners. As item five was approved item six took place by administering the oath of office to the three elected council members and the newly elected mayor.
The council members who were sworn in are Ricky Rocha, Mary Valdonado, and Judy Bessler. Rocha and Valdonado return to their seats while Bessler is new to the council for District 3. Also the swearing in of the newly elected mayor, Jerry Geronimo Gonzales took place.
There was a quick presentation of plaques for the service of those who are outgoing from the city council, which include former Mayor Tom Hess, and former District 3 Councilman Mike Swaringen.
Moving on to item eight on the agenda was to elect the Mayor Pro-Tem. Leon Pope held that position until Ray McFarland who represents District 5 was elected as Mayor Pro-Tem. Councilman Ricky Rocha made the nomination for McFarland to become Mayor Pro-Tem with Leon Pope seconding the nomination and it was a unanimous vote.
In item nine of the agenda, the Council heard from CPA Eddy Holloway as he gave the audit report for the 2016-2017 financial summaries. Total expenditures for the 2016/2017 fiscal year was $17,320,860.00 leaving a cash and investment balance of $7,279,980.00. The increase in higher expenditures compared to the last fiscal year ($16,801,191.00) was related to the police department and completion of the water and sewer extensions.
Moving to item ten where it received the most attention was to hear from representatives of the Brownfield Chamber of Commerce regarding the Visitor Information Center operation agreement and the utilization of Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax funds (HOT funds) to upgrade the city-owned baseball/softball fields located at Coleman Park. Executive Director of the Chamber, Lorena Valencia presented to the Council the effects of using HOT funds for the ball fields at Coleman Park.
Valencia began with thanking the council for being on the agenda and wanted to make the statement, “We are in favor, we have seen the conditions of the ballparks, I have a grandchild, grandchildren that play there, we are in favor of upgrading or new fields, whatever needs to be done.” Valencia went on to mention that the major concern is the future funding of the Visitor Information Center (VIC) and the HOT funds are a major source of income for the VIC.
Valencia took some time to go back in time to look at some event that took place that has led up to this issue. She began to talk about that she was on the HOT fund committee and her position on that committee was to look at and approve organizations or individuals who needed HOT funds to help with an event that would place “heads in beds” the local hotels and motels. Valencia talked about last year when the committee had met and they were supposed to come back and meet about an applicant that left some things incomplete.
According to Valencia, that meeting never happened because the HOT fund committee was dissolved. Of course, there are minutes to the prior meeting before the committee was disbanded. Valencia said, “ I remember that one of the council members came and spoke to me about doing away with the committee, he said you know it will be a faster process, it will go to the council, we won’t have to wait that long for post-event applications.”
Valencia let the council know in this conversation she had with the council member that it was at the office out in the parking lot and she told the councilperson that she wanted to think about because she was just on her way out to leave to go home. Later on after the councilperson approached Valencia the City Council had a meeting where the councilperson who had met with Valencia told the City Council that the HOT fund committee wanted to disband.
Valencia told the Council that, “there was no vote, it was never considered, it was never on the agenda.” She felt that this was playing into the hands of the City Council so that the Hot funds could be directed into one direction. On September 11th 2017, a letter was sent to Valencia and the Chamber board members. The letter stated that they should be at the September 21st meeting because the council is discussing and making changes to the HOT fund’s agreement with the VIC because the city wanted to change where the HOT funds were going to be used.
Four days later from the first letter, the chamber received another one stating that the HOT fund’s agreement was taken off the agenda. According to Ray and Nisha Patel, there was a meeting at the city hall concerning HOT funds, and that former Mayor Tom Hess and Councilman Leon Pope were in that meeting, stating that there will be a change in how the HOT funds will be used and that will toward the ballparks. Patel wanted to meet with all the hotel/motel owners so that they could get a consensus.
According to Valencia, Ray Patel stated, “they shouldn’t put all the funds (HOT funds) in one basket, they should leave the funding just as it is.” This was the recommendation of the owners.
One of the other subjects that Valencia mentioned was how the HOT funds are to be used according to the law. According to the Texas Tax Code Sec. 351.1076(a)(2) and Brian Sullivan the Deputy General Counsel of the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association, the HOT funds are to be used exclusively for the project of upgrading the ball fields.
Any funding the city uses that comes from the HOT funds that are to be used to upgrade the ball fields may not spend more hotel occupancy tax dollars on sports facilities than dollars generated in area hotel revenue that is attributed to the upgrades. If the City of Brownfield decides to use the HOT funds, but cannot get back the amount they used in a five year period, then the city would have to pay that back to the HOT fund’s account.
The Tax Code also gives a regulation that ball fields must be used for district, regional or state tournaments more than ten times a year in the previous calendar year. Valencia stated to the council that the city attorney Lina Reyes-Trevino had said in a city hearing in November 2017 that there were hardly any tournaments on the ball fields. Valencia went on to ask the council, “So if there weren’t enough tournaments held in 2017, how are going to start working on the fields in 2018 with HOT funds?”
Valencia also stated that some chamber reps asks Eric Martinez and Jeremy Franco if any of their tournaments are a district, state or regional level, and their response was that the majority of their tournaments are to prep kids. Valencia also went on to show the council the tax codes and a chart of how many “heads in beds” are needed within the five year period and there would need to be 416 rooms rented per day for five years to get to that “clawback” threshold.
After Valencia was done giving her presentation, she had asked if there were any questions. Mayor Gonzales then proceeded to say, “I just want to go back to letter from…” Mayor Gonzales was then interrupted by City Attorney Reyes-Trevino stating that this is not a discussion item on the agenda. Mayor Gonzales said, “I can discuss it among us.” Reyes-Trevino said, “But there is no action or anything taken, we can listen.” Mayor Gonzales then told Reyes-Trevino, “I can discuss this with my council.”
Mayor Gonzales then went on to discuss with the council the letter and information that was given by Sullivan. Mayor Gonzales then read the letter from Sullivan. Reyes-Trevino began to talk again and stated that this issue has already been addressed. She said, “not one penny has been spent, everything is premature.” Valencia said, “you have approvals from the council.” With Reyes-Trevino saying again, “not one penny has been spent.” Valencia went on to tell Reyes-Trevino, “we didn’t say it has been spent.”
Valencia also stated that she had asked that this agenda item would be an action item. Reyes-Trevino continued to speak that this subject has already been dealt with and convinced Mayor Gonzales that this was not an action item, it was then turned to chambers attention that this item could be acted upon. At the bottom of the agenda, it states, “THE BOARD MAY VOTE AND/OR ACT UPON EACH OF THE ITEMS LISTED IN THIS AGENDA.” No action was taken on this item.
The meeting was then moved on to the next item of business, which was the quarterly report from the Chief of Police, Tony Serbantez. The council approved the report.
The last item of business was to complete the agreement between BRMC and City of Brownfield to obtain the property which use to house the Police Department. The building will now be used to house the ambulances and EMTs of BRMC. This was unanimously approved.
You can listen to the entire Brownfield City Council meeting right here.