During this week's Big Spring City Council Meeting, the General Election for City Council Positions of City Council Member, District 4, and City Council Member, District 6, was cancelled due to the fact that the incumbents, Howard Stewart, Councilman for District 4, and Jim DePauw, Councilman for District 6 were unopposed. It should be noted that this will be the last term that each will be able to serve as a city council member.
An increase of $16,000 to the Hotel/Motel Tax Fund Budget for the purpose of a Hotel/Motel Audit. Financial Director and City Secretary Donald Moore, CPA, explained that the last time the hotel occupancy tax was audited the process took two-and-a-half years to complete. At the time the budget was assembled for this fiscal year, the plan was to budget $10,000 each fiscal year in order to have enough money to cover the cost of the audit. However, when the proposals were returned for the next audit, it was indicated that all would be able to complete the audit within this fiscal year, thus requiring an increase. Moore went on to say that the purpose of the audit is to make sure that the city and the state are receiving all the tax due to them from the hotels and motels. He stated that when this is done, a significant portion is received back to the department. It was also noted that an increase in Hotel/Motel Tax Revenue of $20,000 was budgeted in order to show that the amount that the Big Spring Convention and Visitors Bureau would be receiving as a result of the audit would be more than enough to cover the $16,000 increase.
An increase in the General Fund Budget in the amount of $21,452.50 was approved for the purpose of accepting a JAG (Justice Assistance Grant) grant in order to purchase ticket writers.
An increase of $50,000 to the Hotel/Motel Tax Fund Budget was approved for the purpose of additional event funding. In light of the fact that the Hotel/Motel tax revenue has increased and it's forecasted to continue, and the number of grants that have been received has totaled to $522,245, which is more than the cost of Phase II of Spring Restoration and will be able to pay on Phase I, it was seen as a reasonable request to increase event funding. Council Member DePauw noted that when he first joined the Big Spring CVB Board, they were able to fund $200,000/year in projects, but now they're down to $125,000. He noted that there has been an increase in the number of events, and a decrease in the amount of funding and he feared that some of the events might disappear if the CVB was not able to fund it better.
The ATMOS Rate Review Mechanism (RRM) process was adopted as a substitution for the current Gas Reliability Infrastructure (GRIP) process that is being used to determine its rates for natural gas in the city. Moore explained that Big Spring is a part the Steering Committee of Cities Served by ATMOS, a coalition of cities, and the coalition's attorney urged the cities to adopt. The attorney had advised that the RRM process would be fairer way for the cities to negotiate what ATMOS says their expenses are.
According to Moore, two of the five components that will be used in the process to figure out rates are the corporate tax rate and the return on investment. He stated that the corporate tax rate was decreased due to the government mandate that is to take effect on March 1st. He also advised that the coalition was able to negotiate a reduction of Return on Investment, basically what ATMOS attempts to pay their stockholders, from 10.50 percent to 9.8 percent. As a result of this, he stated that the city will be paying less for the rate of natural gas until October 1, 2018. As of now, it is unknown what the rates will be, but he hoped that the rates would still be low.
The City's Personnel Policies and Procedures were updated by amending Chapter XVI regarding Sexual and Other Unlawful Harassment to add a new chapter regarding Social Media.
The second amendment to the Interlocal Cooperation Agreement between Howard County and the City for construction and operation and operation of a Law Enforcement Center, and for combined dispatching services. The amendment stated that it allowed the county to be able to add 2 additional dispatchers to their staff. According to Sheriff Stan Parker, this was necessary in order to cover the 18% increase in call volume in the last 3 years. He stated that there is an average 177,000 phone calls that go through the Law Enforcement Center every year.