From left, Commerce City Manager Darrek Ferrell talks about the proposed "Neighborhood Empowerment Zone" while council members Gene Lockhart, Beckey Thompson and Mayor Wyman Williams listen.

The Commerce City Council made a surprise move to table a measure that would allocate funds from the city’s hotel tax budget for community organizations, choosing to think over the amounts more and make a decision later.

The decision came after City Council member Jean Klaus originally motioned to allocate $5,000 to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, $10,000 to the Chamber of Commerce, $8,000 to the Northeast Texas Children’s Museum and $5,000 for a marketing agreement between the city and Texas A&M University-Commerce. Klaus’ motion died without a second.

Council member Gene Lockhart posited that the allocation should be held off until a later date, as a new opportunity had arrived earlier in the day Tuesday. The city received bids from two companies to complete a hotel feasibility study stemming from the recently-passed legislation that would allow the city to reap the full amount of hotel taxes taken from a hotel that was attached to a publicly-owned convention center. The study would determine the feasibility of such a project, and hotel tax funds are eligible to be used for the study, since it could lead to more growth in the hotel/motel sector in town.

The council voted unanimously to table the measure and allocate the funds later. The preliminary budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year is slated to be presented to the public on Aug. 1, but amendments could be made to allocate the funds later as long as it is done before Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

This decision came on the heels of a resolution passed that added more rules and oversight to the hotel tax allocation process. The new rules would require organizations that receive the funds to submit results from either a participant survey or a hotel survey of guests coming to the events they use the hotel funds for. This also includes an itemized report of everything the funds have been used for.

Also changing is the actual allocation itself. Funds would delivered to the organization only when it is required for the event instead of a lump payment at the start of the fiscal year, and City Manager Darrek Ferrell was authorized to withhold funds to organizations that do not abide by the new rules. Organizations would be able to appeal the withholding ruling to the City Council.

The measure passed unanimously.

Several public meetings are planned to get community feedback on a proposed Neighborhood Empowerment Zone. First presented before the council in April, the NEZ would provide incentives for new development and rehabilitation in a defined area.

The area included in the proposed NEZ covers much of the northeast part of town, which Ferrell said was found to have a lower average property value than any other part of town.

The zone would provide incentives such as waiving city fees for new construction, tax exemption for up to three years for new properties and waivers for incremental taxes on improved properties.

Three public meetings are planned to gauge community feedback and deliver information, and the council could approve the zone at their next meeting in August. The meetings and locations are as follows:

— July 23, 6 p.m. Abundant Life Assembly (803 Chestnut Street)

— July 30, 6 p.m. Commerce City Hall (1119 Alamo Street)

— Aug. 13, 6 p.m. Norris Community Center (1007 Ross Street)

The council accepted a donation of $18,000 worth of materials from Hunt County for the completion of a walking trail at Centennial Park. The trail is a part of a larger expansion that included a concrete skate park and a nine-hole disc golf course.

Sales tax collections were once again higher than budgeted, and the city is expected to bring in more than $1 million in sales tax revenues for the second consecutive year. Property tax collections were announced at 97.28 percent at a total of $1,964,773, which is $66,219 over expected amounts.

The next meeting of the Commerce City Council is scheduled for Aug. 20 at 6 p.m. The preliminary budget will be presented to the public on Aug. 1, but a time has not been announced.

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