|By Angela Macias, The Beaumont Enterprise, Texas|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
July 13, 2004 - BEAUMONT, Texas -- When out-of-town visitors stay in a Beaumont hotel, they pay a tax used by the city to draw even more tourists.
But not every hotel occupancy tax dollar is making its way into city hands.
Proprietors of three Beaumont inns have fallen behind by as many as four months' worth of payments of the 7-percent tax. The city attorney is exploring litigation that could force closure of the hotels until accounts are current.
Council members today will decide whether to take legal action against the Hampton Inn, Scottish Inns and Interstate Inn.
City Attorney Lane Nichols said numerous letters have been sent to the hotels requesting payment. Left with no other option, he said a judge could order the hotels to close until money is turned over.
"I've written letters to these three hotels month after month," he said in a phone interview. "We don't want to shut anyone down who is doing business in Beaumont, but we don't have any other options left."
The businesses, however, still have a little time before litigation is filed.
Scottish Inns owner Mohammed Yaseen said he is trying to catch up on the past-due amount. By late Monday afternoon, the city had received a payment, but city employees couldn't confirm the amount or whether the hotel was up-to-date.
A phone call placed to the Hampton Inn wasn't returned Monday.
Mike Bhuller, Interstate Inn manager, said flooding at the hotel slowed business, but a payment should be made by next week.
Of the 15-percent tax levied at Beaumont hotels, 6 percent goes to the state and 2 percent to the county, with the remainder headed for city coffers. The city collected more than $1.6 million in hotel occupancy taxes during the last fiscal year.
Those revenues pay for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and help with Civic Center operational costs. Some special projects also benefit; Hotel Beaumont rooms are refurbished using the money, said Dean Conwell, the Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director.
Most of the money is collected from tourists and directed back at attracting more tourism dollars. Thus, local taxpayers don't bear the burden of trying to bring visitors to the city, he said.
Conwell said it isn't right that a few not pay up when most of the 26 hotel owners are on time.
"It's not their money; it's a tax," he said. "It is not fair to the people here at the bureau and the other hoteliers."
Each hotel is in a different state of arrears.
The Hampton Inn is now current, but owes penalties and interest of $5,296 for three months of late payments.
The Scottish Inns was four months behind, and the Interstate Inn owes for two months, said Nada Rogers, deputy treasurer for the city. The two inns are behind by one month with the state, according to the Texas Comptroller's office.
Scottish Inns has failed to pay Jefferson County since November, according to county records.
Establishments generate a report and pay the city its share of the tax on the 20th day of the following month.
The Scottish Inns and Interstate Inn haven't submitted reports, so city officials are unsure how much is owed.
But the Scottish Inns has paid on average $1,397 a month in the past year, and the Interstate Inn has turned over an average of $1,619 per month, according to city records.
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