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State senator and Bell County Commissioners can't agree on hotel tax

BELL COUNTY, TX (KXXV) - Bell County commissioners and Texas state senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) are squaring off over a hotel tax that would help fund renovations to the Bell County Expo Center. According to an op-ed Fraser sent to media outlets, the senator has been pressured to bring a bill to the Senate floor, allowing the county to impose a 2 percent tax on hotels and motels.

Currently the hotel-motel tax sits at 13 percent with 6 percent in state taxes, and an average of 7 percent in city taxes. The increase would add an extra $2.20 to the average room price in Bell County. In order for the tax to be brought before the Senate, Fraser said he told commissioners they must have unanimous consent from all economic entities in Bell county.

"I wasn't sent to Austin to increase taxation on the people that sent me there and especially when you have a big portion of the county that would be opposed to this," said Fraser.

The tax, which is generally uniform across the state, would fund renovations to the center could cost as much as $25 million, according to Commissioner Tim Brown. Brown added the tax would be imposed on those coming in to use the center, making the tax more like a user fee than a tax.

"We've been struggling for some time with what the appropriate plan would be to expand the facility and how to pay for it," Brown said. "Traditionally these kinds of facilities are supported by hotel taxes which are authorized specifically for economic development and that's exactly what the expo center is."

But Fraser said he thought the tax would unfairly burden those visiting loved ones at Fort Hood, who were unlikely to use the facility.

"Most of the people using the hotels in Killeen are the friends and families of the military....and none of those people are likely to visit the expo center," Fraser said.

According to officials at Fort Hood, families and friends of those on post usually stay at a hotel within Fort Hood or stay in nearby hotel that has contracted with the fort.

The commissioners do have other options to pay for the renovations, such as raising property taxes or imposing other fees, that would allow the money not to go through legislation.

"If they wanted to re-do the Expo Center, they can increase taxes themselves," said Fraser. "Obviously if they chose to do that they will have to explain it to the voters."

The commissioners and senator plan to meet Monday to discuss the tax. The Expo Center has not been renovated since 1995.

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