CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
BURNET — The cost for expanding Christmas decorations split the vote 3-2 recently among Burnet County commissioners, prompting one dissenting voter to raise concerns about the amount of funds dedicated to the display, officials say.
Officials approved approximately $74,000 for the purchase of additional decorations for the Burnet County Courthouse as well as installation and removal of the lighting display for the 2016-17 fiscal year to be paid for with hotel/motel tax funds.
Those funds are derived from a 5 percent tax on tourism and visitor lodging in unincorporated areas of the county.
The measure would allow for approximately $35,000 to be spent in subsequent years for installation and maintenance.
Commissioners approved Arnette Marketing of San Antonio as the contractor.
“Last year, we brought in a new lighting scheme (including LED bulbs). After seeing what we did last year, we noticed we saw some areas that needed some enhancements,” said Burnet County Judge James Oakley, who supported the expansion. “We’re looking forward to making the courthouse tie into the Main Street Bethlehem activities.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Bill Neve said he voted against the proposal because of cost.
“Obviously, we’re talking about money. I just thought it was a big increase. I wasn’t ready to take that jump,” Neve said. “I thought we should keep doing what we were doing before.”
In prior years, county maintenance crews would handle the installation and maintenance, a cost of about $34,000.
“We own the lights. We hire the company to wrap the trees. The same company that does the River Walk (in San Antonio),” Oakley said. “It’s beyond the capacity of what our maintenance crews can do.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery also voted against funding the expanded lighting display.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Ronnie Hibler and Precinct 2 Commissioner Russell Graeter voted with the county judge for approval.
Neve raised concerns about whether the approved tourism budget item would put “heads in beds,” which is the aim of hotel/motel tax fund expenditures.
“Once you set it at that level, then you have to end up maintaining it at that level,” Neve said. “I don’t believe people use hotels and motels in the area because of the Christmas lights. They come and they go to the next town.”
Oakley contends the county will benefit from the upgraded lighting display.
“We’re looking to put a shot in the arm on tourism. That is normally a pretty slow time of year,” he said. “We’re hoping people will come here and spend the night.”
The annual tourism budget for the county is approximately $550,000, which is spent on items ranging from events promotions and lodge association memberships to regional advertising and tours.
“While they’re here, they shop at the shops, they stop at the restaurants. They might look at some real estate that’s available,” Oakley said. “It’s all about getting people to come, visit our area and spend their dollars here.”