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Proposed bill would broaden hotel tax money use
by Gary Kent
Apr 15, 2013 | 1391 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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AUSTIN – Three representatives of the City of Beeville were in Austin this week testifying before House and Senate committees concerning bills that have been submitted by local lawmakers.

The bills now in committee hearings, Senate Bill 1703 and House Bill 1279, would allow Beeville to use some of the hotel and motel occupancy tax funds to help finance badly needed water projects.

“On Monday, I had the honor of representing the city along with (City Manager) Deborah Ballí and John Valls at the Capitol and appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee in support of HB 1279,” said Mayor Santiago “Jimbo” Martinez.

On Wednesday, Ballí spoke in support of SB 1703 before the Senate Economic Development Committee.

Valls was along to serve as an adviser.

SB 1703 was authored by District 21 Sen. Judith Zaffirini, and it addresses a community with a population of less than 50,000 but more than 10,000 through which the Aransas River flows.

Poesta Creek is the east fork of the Aransas River.

If the bill passes the Legislature and is signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry, it would allow Beeville to use 20 percent of its hotel and motel occupancy (HOT) funds to address infrastructure and transportation needs attributed to hotel activity within the county.

HB 1279, authored by District 43 Rep. J.M. Lozano, would allow pretty much the same use of HOT funds, maintaining and improving critical infrastructure. But it would allow all or any portion of HOT funds for those projects and would not limit the use of funds to projects attributed to hotel activity.

The City Council currently is looking primarily at financing a $15.3 million project, the bulk of which would be used to build a reverse osmosis plant at the city’s water storage facility on West Cleveland Street.

The other funds would be used for water system improvements and to drill a well between 1,500 and 1,700 feet deep into the Jasper aquifer.

Most of that water would have to be pumped through the reverse osmosis plant to meet Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requirements for suspected solids and chlorides.

The council anticipates being able to pump about 3 million gallons a day from the aquifer and using it to supplement water now being pumped from the Nueces River near Swinney Switch. That water is treated at the George P. Morrill, I Water Treatment Plant at Swinney Switch and then pumped to Beeville.

However, two continuous years of drought have resulted on a substantial drop in the level of the river and of Lake Corpus Christi, just south of the Beeville Water Supply District’s raw water intake structure.

With the Coastal Bend facing a third year of little rainfall, the BWSD’s ability to continue taking water from the Nueces River for more than the next two years remains doubtful.

With much of Texas facing the same drought concerns as the Coastal Bend, lawmakers have put water issues at the top of their agenda for this session.

The two bills dealing with Beeville’s use of HOT funds for water projects are working through committees and are expected to be presented to the full Senate and House before long.

Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.
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