If the debate over a purely administrative Charter Ordinance is any indication, the decision of whether to help with the development of a new hotel in Augusta won’t be decided without a fight.
An amendment to one of the city’s charter ordinances passed 6-2 Monday night with Mike Wallace absent and Mayor Kristey Williams allowed to have an original vote due to the nature of the ordinance being considered.
The discussion will continue at a work session to discussion the hotel project on Monday, October 14 at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
Matt Malone and Sue Jones voted no for different reasons. Jones said she understood all of the arguments about Augusta’s two hotels not drawing guests and losing money to Andover and Wichita, but she was hung up on one clause in the amended ordinance.
“I am not against raising the guest tax to six percent,” Jones said. “But I am against the provision that allows that money to be used for construction or management costs.”
Malone said he was against changing the charter ordinance right now.
“”The only reason we are considering this is that someone put our feet to the fire with a deadline,” Malone said. “This ordinance has no bearing until the hotel is completed. I know they want it to change, but I want a plan in place before we go changing it.”
Mike Rawlings said the way he saw the vote was that it is part of a plan.
“We have seen deficiencies in our current system and we want to entertain possibilities to address those deficiencies,” Rawlings said. “This would give us that ability.”
Dalton Patterson appeared before the council recently and told them about a group of investors who want to help bring a new hotel to Augusta.
The private investors will raise a portion of the money and a private developer, Raju Sheth, would provide the rest.
The group said they needed to know if the city would participate with a number of concessions before the deal could be done.
One of those concessions was raising the guest tax rate to six percent and returning the portion raised by the new hotel to the owners for a period of years.
They also asked for property tax breaks, IRBs and other concessions to help make the process smoother and bring the project to profitability sooner.
The city would not lose any money from its current budget because the area the group hope to develop is a vacant lot on 7th Street adjacent to a used car lot near the new Walmart. The city would stand to gain from the potential addition of new restaurants which are part of the hotel plan and also from sales taxes from money spent in Augusta by patrons of the new establishment.
Page 2 of 2 - Interim City Manager Josh Shaw said the council needed to consider this issue Monday night because if the guest tax isn’t raised, the council would not even have the ability to offer the concessions the local investment group requested.
“Approving this change ordinance does not change the guest tax rate or enter an agreement,” Shaw said. “This issue just gives the council the authority to change the rate and use the funds for economic development.”
Matt Childers said he saw Monday night’s votes as merely giving the council the ability make decisions of this sort.
“I have faith in this council and future councils to make good decisions,” he said. “If we don’t believe the governing body will do the right thing, why are we all here in the first place?”
Mayor Kristey Williams said she felt like changing the ordinance was important because for five years, no one has even approached the council about a plan of this sort.
“It is our responsibility to consider it,” Mayor Williams said. “This is the least controversial part of the process. This is truly a no harm step.”
Williams said she supports the plan because it does not increase or affect the mill levy, it is not a tax on Augusta residents and it the money for the project would come solely from those who stayed in the new hotel.
“Don’t be surprised when a petition hits the door,” Malone said.
A petition with signatures of 10 percent of the voters in the most recent municipal election would force the matter to a vote of the people.
Shaw said he would put information about the move on the city’s website and it would be published twice in the Augusta Gazette for citizens to see.