Travis County moves forward on Nov. 2019 hotel tax referendum to fund expo center expansion

Travis County commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 19 to call a referendum this November regarding a venue project to expand the Travis County Expo Center.

Travis County commissioners voted unanimously Aug. 19 to call a referendum this November regarding a venue project to expand the Travis County Expo Center.

Travis County commissioners voted unanimously to designate the Travis County Exposition Center a venue project to be funded by hotel occupancy tax revenue at a special meeting Aug. 19.

In doing so, commissioners also authorized County Judge Sarah Eckhardt to order a referendum election on whether to allocate hotel occupancy tax, or HOT, revenue to such a project Nov. 5.

Today is the last day local government entities can call a referendum for this year's election cycle.

Currently, there is a 17% hotel occupancy tax levied in the city of Austin, comprised of a 6% state rate and an 11% local rate. The local rate is made up of a 9% HOT rate with an additional 2% venue project rate.

The venue project tax requires voter approval and will designate HOT revenue for specific, eligible projects. In 1998, city of Austin voters approved a 2% venue project rate to pay for an expansion of the convention center downtown.

The venue project tax can be levied through 2029, although city officials expect the debt from the expansion project to be paid off by 2021.

The maximum HOT rate allowed in the state of Texas is 17%.

County commissioners hope to access HOT revenue for their own venue project—the Travis County Expo Center—in 2021, should the city pay off its debt and county voters choose to approve the project and accompanying tax.

While Travis County has been unable to secure a commitment from Austin to pay off its debt by 2021 and support the county's pursuit of HOT revenue, commissioners have still chosen to pursue a November referendum.

If voters approve the measure this November, the county will have one year to plan the project before levying the tax in 2021.

"We're just working our timeline," Eckhardt told Community Impact Newspaper Aug. 7.

County officials attended an Austin City Council meeting Aug. 8 in an attempt to secure a commitment from city officials regarding the 2% venue tax increment.

"I ask you ... to commit on the record today to pay down the 2% HOT under the [local government code] by 2021 so that the county can invest it in the eastern crescent for the redevelopment of the expo center," Eckhardt told council members Aug. 8.

Although council members expressed hope such a solution could work, they did not provide a firm commitment.

Instead, Council approved a motion to direct the city manager to work with the county on finding mutually beneficial strategies for the expo center expansion project.

In addition to the county's HOT referendum, the city of Austin will also hold two separate referendums Nov. 5, both of which are the results of citizen petitions.
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