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Llano County HOT funds meeting to determine JLK trade deal

John L. Kuykendall Event Center and Arena

The John L. Kuykendall Event Center and Arena could be traded to Llano County from the city of Llano for county-owned property within the city. The city has been operating the center at a deficit since 2017. The exchange has been approved by the Llano City Council and is on the county Commissioners Court agenda for Monday, Nov. 14. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

A trade deal in the works between Llano County and the city of Llano for the John L. Kuykendall Event Center and Arena hinges on the outcome of a special meeting of the Commissioners Court on Monday, Nov. 14. In that meeting, the court will divvy up almost $800,000 in hotel occupancy tax money. The county is seeking HOT funds to pay for the center’s operations.

The special meeting will follow the regular meeting, which starts at 9 a.m. Monday in the Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace courtroom at the Law Enforcement Center, 2001 Texas 16 North in Llano. 

In October, the Commissioners Court voted 3-2 to approve the JLK trade deal with the condition that HOT funds be used to pay expenses. County Judge Ron Cunningham and commissioners Jerry Don Moss and Peter Jones voted in favor; commissioners Linda Raschke and Mike Sandoval voted against. If the deal is approved, the city of Llano would give the center to the county in exchange for county-owned property within city limits.

A total of $785,039.04 in HOT funds will be distributed among 32 applicants, including the event center. Commissioner Moss, who is in charge of trade negotiations with the city, originally requested $290,000 for the center’s operations but recently lowered his estimate to $180,000. He also put the center at the end of the HOT funds list and will ask for any remaining money after the court reviews the other applications, he told DailyTrib.com. 

Trade negotiations have been going on for months. Supporters say the JLK center is a valuable asset for Llano County youth who use it for livestock shows and other agriculture programs. Those opposed to the trade say the center does not benefit the whole county and could be a dangerous investment with taxpayer money. The 25,000-square-foot facility includes a rodeo arena on 88 acres of land.

Negotiations started in July after Llano Mayor Kelli Tudyk proposed a trade of the JLK center for county-owned property within the city. Tudyk told the Commissioners Court that the city was operating the event center at a significant deficit and wanted to alleviate the burden but keep the facility open to Llano-area residents. The city has run an annual deficit of $50,000-$90,000 between 2016 and 2021, she said.

During a court meeting in August, Moss proposed the center could be operated using HOT funds, which are taxes collected from hotels and short-term rentals across the county that must be used exclusively to promote projects or activities that bring in tourism money.

Two examples of events using HOT funds are the Llano Crawfish Open and the Llano Earth Art Festival, both of which take place in the city of Llano but also put “heads in beds” outside of the city limits.

Llano County AgriLife Extension Agent Whitney Whitworth, who spoke during the public comment portion of an Oct. 24 commissioners meeting, said the Hill District Grandstand Show held at the event center brought in $17,000 in HOT funds for the county’s unincorporated areas in 2019, $27,000 in 2020, $50,000 in 2021, and $63,000 in 2022. 

“I think communities need facilities like this, and I am willing to take it on for the county,” Moss told DailyTrib.com. “It’s good for our 4-H and FFA. It’s also good for my precinct. It’s also good for the county as a whole.”

The event center and the city of Llano are in Moss’ Precinct 4. 

Moss and other deal supporters worry the city will decide to sell or lease the event center to an outside party, which could potentially not provide free or discounted use of the space to youth programs. Supporters hope, through county management and maintenance, the center can become profitable and still support local programs.

The JLK Event Center and Arena is not just used for livestock competitions. It is a regular venue for large-scale events such as motocross shows, monster truck rallies, and rodeos.

The center is valued at about $2.7 million. The property that the city will receive in county-owned parks, lots, and structures is estimated to be around $393,158.

The city approved its side of the trade during a Sept. 19 council meeting, which left the final call in the county’s hands.

Find the Llano County Commissioners Court agenda and other HOT fund requests here.

dakota@thepicayune.com