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Burnet County will draw on its tourism dollars to cover $19,908 in overtime accrued by the Sheriff’s Office in the days surrounding the April 8 total solar eclipse. The event drew tens of thousands of visitors to the area, so it was decided the extra hours could be considered a tourism-related expense.

Using the county’s hotel occupancy tax fund to pay for deputies’ overtime has been up for discussion since just after the eclipse. 

About 80,000 visitors came to Burnet County on April 8, and thousands more arrived in the days leading up to the event. Deputies racked up 498 hours in overtime managing traffic and the surplus population during that time.

Hotel occupancy tax funds can legally be used for the promotion or support of local tourism that directly leads to improved business for lodging services. The county has $575,000 in HOT funds budgeted for the 2023-24 fiscal year. The money is collected as a tax from all lodging businesses in unincorporated areas.

Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo told Commissioners Court members they could approve using HOT funds if they believed the Sheriff’s Office overtime met two specific standards.

The first standard was that overtime expenses directly promoted tourism in the hotel and/or convention industry.

The second was that overtime expenses met at least one of nine categories from Texas Tax Code 351.1001. Arredondo pointed to the third category, which focuses on advertising and conducting solicitations to attract tourists.

“In this situation, what we had was a unique historical event,” he told the court. “The tourism department certainly was active in promoting Burnet County as a destination to come view the (eclipse). A large number of tourists did come into Burnet County, and a large number of tourists did utilize hotels and motels for lodging.”

He alluded to an opinion issued by the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, which set the precedent for paying law enforcement overtime if it was specifically used to facilitate tourism that benefited the local lodging industry.

The court unanimously approved the use of HOT funds to cover BCSO overtime after hearing Arredondo’s comments.

The Sheriff’s Office has $75,000 budgeted for overtime in the 2023-24 fiscal year, and the eclipse overtime would have accounted for 26 percent of that.

Chief Deputy Alan Trevino spoke at the close of the discussion, stating that the Sheriff’s Office did everything it could to keep overtime to a minimum during the eclipse.

“We definitely always have overtime, but had we not purposefully attacked it the way we did, we would have easily had double or triple the amount,” he said.

dakota@thepicayune.com

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