Sunday, November 12, 2006

Spread the Wealth Around

(Update 11/12 - the link works now - sorry 'bout that....)

I noticed it again this morning: my beach access sucks. The parking lot is badly in need of repaving and striping; the planter is sprouting only weeds; and since Rita took the walkway out, the beach users need to compete with the city tractors for access. There is a soiled disposable diaper under one of the benches that has been there for days if not weeks. (I unlitter bottles, cans, etc. on a daily basis, but I cannot bring myself to touch that nasty thing.)

Many if not most of the town's public beach accesses are falling into a state of disrepair and neglect and the goal of creating a contiguous dune ridge has received nothing but lip-service. We have strict laws about keeping glass off the beach with hardly any enforcement. Ask why this is so and it always comes down to "not enough money."

But wait just a doggone minute! Of course there is money -- so much money that we can spend $300,000 to get the town's name - tiny tiny - on a Nascar truck!

Everyone knows that the town of South Padre Island collects a hotel/motel tax - something like 5 million annually - that "may not be used for the general revenue purposes or general governmental operations of a municipality" and must be used for the kinds of promotions and expenses commonly associated with "putting heads in bed" -- right?

Well, Island resident Will Davis thinks we may have more latitude in spending those funds than our town leaders realize -- or care to admit. He has written a thoughtful, well-researched letter outlining why he thinks this and then goes on to list some town expenses currently being paid for out of the general fund that could conceivably be funded with the hotel/motel tax. This letter has been sent to the Mayor, BOA members, and several other movers and shakers -- with no appreciable result. I believe that the community as a whole could benefit from more people reading this and then discussing what it could mean and perhaps applying some pressure on our elected officials to investigate further.

Will agrees and has given me permission to post his letter on my server
What follows is an excerpt. You can read the whole document here... please do!
Comments are welcomed.

...If residents knew, however, that a broader use of these funds were permissible, I believe many would be of the opinion that such permissibility should be actualized, at least to some degree. If so, that is an opinion I would share, and I will briefly offer three reasons why.

(1)        Many costs associated with some of the activities listed above are currently paid for on SPI out of the general fund. These include beach policing, code enforcement, construction/maintenance of beach access, sanitation (bathroom facilities), parking, and the like. In my opinion, this is an undue burden on town residents. If some money from HOT revenues were utilized to help defray such expenditures, this would release general fund monies now encumbered for such purposes, allowing them instead to be redirected to other activities/functions bettering resident life, or alternatively, returned to the residents themselves.

(2)        Relying largely upon general fund revenues for such purposes is impractical because the resulting budgeting pressures make it difficult to meet perceived needs effectively. In other words, it is difficult to meet specific needs with excellence without money, and when a large pot of money, potentially available for such needs, is erroneously identified as untouchable, needed projects may be left unattended, or where they are addressed, quality may suffer. I hesitate to offer specific examples, as I know my own judgments on particular specifics are uneducated. No doubt, for example, many on the "Beach and Dune" committee would have a better idea about the priority needs relative to beach issues. I will venture only the untutored layman observations that the beach accesses are paltry, worker access is problematic, parking seems to be an omnipresent challenge, bathroom facilities are limited, dune restoration is under-attended, and park/recreational venues are nonexistent. I will offer no particular suggestions with regard to the interesting item #3 in Section 351.1055 Subsection (c) quoted above except to recall it to your attention. It implies many possibilities.

(3)        SPI is a tourist destination because of the beauty and allure of its beaches. Certainly no special event, no advertising spot, no marketing campaign, no matter how clever, comes close to competing with the visitor attraction of the beach itself. Short-term gains in stimulating tourist interest may be made by dedicating all HOT revenues to advertising, etc., but in the long run attracting visitors and retaining their interest to return is dependent upon the wise management and protection of our beaches. Suitable enhancements maximizing tourists' sense of security, ease, and delight in their enjoyment of the beach experience, accompanied by appropriate husbandry of the natural environment, will result in long-standing and increased future benefits to the tourist industry unmatched by other activities.




Anonymous Anonymous said...

The law provides for two categories that we're not using now: Historical presevation and promotion of the "arts".

Beyond that, what puts "heads in beds" I guess is open to interpretation. I like the view presented here where the maintenance of our primary draw (the beach) can be funded.

The trick will be convincing the city fathers and CVB.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome to the club, Sam, but it is easier to play from a position of strength. In this case, it is knowledge of the law and how hotel/motel tax revenues can be used for more than just marketing the island. Changing that mindset is going to be a bear and may require another election. Thanks to the person (Will) who researched this so thoroughly.
This information has to get to the voters.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sandy and Sam are right, it seems that the most important thing with our newly elected officials is "Status Quo". However, I hear all the Aldermen are getting new laptop computers. Now thats money well spent.
We walk the beaches every day and pick up a trash bag full of garbage along the way. Now they are starting this street project on the south end of the island that will surely last thru the time most winter texans will be here.( How nice for them )
I personally think we are trying to run off our most precious resoures - the people that come here and enjoy the peacefulness of the island, and its beauty.
Take care of what takes care of you.
If you don't, then it will take alot more than money to get it back.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those of you who have not read Will's actual letter, click on the blue "here" in the original post.
It is impressive and well worth reading.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On SPI the defender of not spending any HOT taxes on anything other than advertising for attracting tourist is the City Attorney, owner of the Raddison.

There probably is a message here.

I read Will's letter with interest. The only way this will change is for citizens to become vocal, in City meetings.

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe there is a Texas attorney general's opinion on the tax monies situation. Failing that, an attorney not specifically connected with the Town and BOA for a legal opinion. NOT to denigrate anyone's attitude toward the spending but to be sure we have a totally unbiased opinion.
And Sam is right: we have to get going on this now. We lucked out with hurricanes this year, we have a chance both to deal with the dunes and to perhaps have a change in attitude toward beach maintenance.
other nancy m

9:11 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

I deleted a few of my moe incendiary comments, as I think the solution here is to be creative and constructive. Time is important because the beach and dune restoration projects are usually done between November 1 and April 1, so as to avoid the turtles and beachgoers. Thanks. /Sam

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair, the alderman who pushed for the NASCAR stuff is no longer on the Board. The ones who opposed it are still there, and I understand we cancelled the contract after he went off the Board.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to respond to the person who was concerned about the median and the winter texans. A lot of time, energy and concern was spent to pick the "best" (and I suppose there is no "best") time for this project and between the summer tourists and the spring break came out as the least damaging to the economy. At least the winter texans probably understand, and have lived through, the kind of confusion which goes with change. So don't knock the powers that be for ignoring these problems. In this case, I actually think they did their best.
other nancy m

2:37 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

This has nothing to do with the median project here, Nancy, but Lori says she's seen a coyote and other road kill where they're putting in medians around Los Fresnos on 100, maybe after Laguna Vista headed west. They cross the road, get confused, and get killed. I shudder to think that ocelots and jagarundi could be trapped in a similar manner. /Sam

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The diagrams of the medians I've seen will be similar to those at the south end of Padre Blvd, near Sea Ranch, not too wide, but with lower vegetation. Wildlife should be able to maneuver across those.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish to thank you, Sandy, for taking your time and using your web capabilities to make my thinking available. Although I'm sure my understanding of the subject is limited and my statement possibly replete with errors, I do hope the information I presented will cause some additional thought on the matter.

But, in any case, thank you.

Will Davis

7:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I gave a copy of Will's statement to all the Alderman last night at the BOA meeting. I offered one to the City Attorney and he refused stating," I saw that this year and when it was originally submitted."

I rest my case.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

That's pretty darn rude. While the Town Attorney is not a paid public servant, he is paid (under a pretty good contract) to provide legal council so to protect the Town's interests; therefore he does work for the people and not the other way around.

Mr. Paul Cunningham should have accepted the document and said something like "gee thanks, I might have seen this before but I'll get with the folks on this as soon as I can." That would be gracious, honest, and nice thing to do.

Basically, Paul told you to go butt a stump, my friend.

By extention, and while he may not have intended it, Paul also told us that our friend Will could also go do the same barnyard deed.

Sure I have respect for the old codger, making millions on condo investments and then representing even more condo associations as a very successful businessman ... but one wonders how much longer this Town can put up with such arrogant amd abusive behavior.

Let me see the Request for Proposal that would show how the Town Lawyer could have been selected in a competitive bid ...


11:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sam, I agree with you. Sometimes, power and influence goes to ones head.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

I guess what I wrote was a little strong and I didn't mean to say bad things ... just to ask why the good man is still the Town Attorney?

On one hand, one could highly value the history and meaning of all the various things that happened since SPI became a town in 1973.

On the other hand, such longevity could get in the way of new ideas and initiatives.

In the latter case, this can give the appearance of being somewhat aloof, and lend itself to the (perhaps unintended) perception that "absolute power corrupts absolutely." /Sam

11:28 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I probably should say no more on this subject, but I now wish to add that I myself take no umbrage with the town attorney, or with anyone else for that matter. The last thing I want to do is to personalize this issue in any way. People in positions of public responsibility, elected or otherwise, frequently are privy to information unavailable to many of us and often must work with pressures and constraints not easily made public. I have no wish to make anyone's job more difficult than it already is.

My principal intent in writing my letter was to explain why I thought SPI occupancy tax revenues could legally be utilized for activities beyond current usage. If my understanding is correct, I thought it important for people to know, as otherwise they are forced to make priority judgments with false constraints. If my understanding is incorrect, then all I can do is apologize and hope that I presented enough evidence to demonstrate good faith, i.e. that other reasonable persons might also have come to such a conclusion, even if wrong. I hoped to shine a brighter light on the issue.

A second issue is how should the revenues be spent among whatever are the potentially permitted categories. This is a far more complex issue, subject to priority judgments and varying opinions, but dependent, of course, upon knowing what categories are indeed permitted. I allowed myself the luxury of offering some of my own opinions on that issue. I wish now I had not; it probably muddies my principal intent, and I also fear that where I may have made errors, they likely occurred in my thinking on that aspect of the topic.

In any case, let us not personalize the matter. I myself am a simple baldheaded English teacher from Hidalgo County, no doubt grappling with issues far beyond my limitations. I ask only for greater transparency.

Will Davis

1:50 PM  

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