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Councilors disagree on changes to use of lodgers’ tax

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Juanita Jennings, public affairs director, explains revisions to the city of Roswell’s ‘Lodgers’ Tax Use Event Policy’ at the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday morning. Allison Gray, the city’s tourism and events manager, is pictured at right. (Alison Penn Photo)

Committee deadlocks on including Artesia for media promoting tourism

Members of the Roswell City Council’s Finance Committee were divided on whether or not to include Artesia as a place where billboards and other media could be paid for using lodgers’ tax funding.

All four committee members, Councilors Caleb Grant (chairman), Steve Henderson (vice chair), Jacob Roebuck and Judy Stubbs were present at Thursday morning’s meeting.

Lodgers’ tax is an optional tax for cities and counties placed on hotels, motels and other commercial short-term rentals, according to information on the state auditor’s website. The city’s lodgers’ tax policy states that the funds can be used for advertising and publicizing and promoting tourism-related events, and the awarding of funds is subject to city council approval and availability.

According to the committee’s agenda, the city’s ‘Lodgers’ Tax Use Event Policy’ was adopted last year on Aug. 10, 2017.

An amendment was tabled at the Dec. 5 Finance Committee meeting.

On Thursday morning, Juanita Jennings, public affairs director, presented revisions to the city’s policy to include use of funds for organizers to pay for the city’s police, fire and sanitation departments providing services at the events — and for the city offer an opportunity to allow the city’s public affairs department to place media for event organizers, who would select this option.

Despite the proposed changes, Jennings said the process for event organizers to apply for lodgers’ tax would remain the same.

Another revision Jennings suggested was to change the distance for placing media outside of Roswell from 30 miles to 50 miles, to align with national standards from groups including the U.S. Travel Association and the New Mexico Tourism Department. Jennings also said the city wants to “help” event organizers with their required reporting, making the paperwork to be due 60 days after the event, instead of 90 days.

Roebuck asked if Artesia would no longer be included and Jennings confirmed this. Roebuck said Artesia should be remain in the policy, but he approved of changing the timeframe for paperwork and including police, fire and sanitation in the language of the policy.

Councilor Stubbs said she disagreed with Roebuck about including Artesia. Stubbs said she remembered a previous council changed the mileage to include Artesia in the first place.

Jennings said the idea is have tourists stay in Roswell to recoup the lodgers’ tax directly, rather than tourists staying in hotels in Artesia.

Through research and attending a tourism conference, Stubbs said she understands that placing media 50 miles away increases the likelihood that tourists stay the night and spend money in Roswell, rather than drive back to a hotel in Artesia.

Roebuck said the city should expand its view, and that including Artesia could bring in tourism, whether they stay in a hotel or not — and the community at large would receive benefits from the gross receipts tax (GRT) generated.

After discussion, Stubbs made a motion to recommend the changes to the policy and to add in the national standards sources. Henderson seconded her motion. Roebuck made an amendment to Stubbs’ motion, for the policy to keep the distance at 30 miles (not changing it to 50) and Grant seconded Roebuck’s motion to keep Artesia in the policy.

Both motions failed 2-2. After the vote, Grant said he was certain the committee would review it again eventually.

As far as the national standards, Roebuck said Roswell’s “particular environment” is not understood by those standards and that local/regional tourists are also important.

Saying the city does want to reach people in Artesia, Grant said the milage change would only be “isolating one community” and it wouldn’t be an issue to leave it in the policy. Grant said a few times a year, when Roswell hotels are completely booked, tourists stay in Artesia, Carlsbad or “even as far as Portales.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.