With more groups seeking a share of the growing cache of hotel-motel tax revenues, city officials are toughening financial accountability standards and putting more focus on increasing overnight tourism.The bed tax funds have bloomed in recent years as six new hotels have opened, and so have the number of organizations seeking the city funds for their sporting tournaments, festivals and other events.But many events approved for funding, while clearly drawing out-of-townies into Mansfield, were not so clearly creating business for the hotels. Its the 13 percent tax charged to hotel guests that replenishes the bed-tax account.We wanted to make them aware that theres a lot of competition for these dollars and to set forth a clear criteria for the applicants so they would know what the council is looking for, said Mayor David Cook, who serves on a three-member City Council subcommittee that has been looking into remedies. We want to make sure there is an adequate return of hotel-motel tax dollars.The tax fund is projected to reach $510,000 during the 2013-14 fiscal year, a slight increase over the estimated $500,000 to be received by the end of the current fiscal year Sept. 30, said Financial Director Peter Phillis. A portion of that likely will be set aside in a reserve fund for future city tourism projects. Last year, $100,000 was deposited into reserves.The council will hear applicants in August and divvy up the funds as part of the 2013-14 budget, which will be finalized in September.State law requires hotel-motel taxes to be used to attract tourists and establishes a wide range of specific uses, including the arts, historic preservation and the construction and operation of tourism and convention centers.City officials conducted a class last week for potential applicants, introducing a revamped application process that includes two new forms aimed at boosting hotel stays. The application deadline is July 31. The groups also have to file a report after their event, providing numbers on attendance, hotel stays and other details.Representatives of about 25 groups, including some seeking the tax funds for the first time, attended the class at City Hall on Thursday.Ive never done this before, so I went to learn about it, said Angel Biasatti,director of community relations and marketing for Methodist Mansfield Medical Center, which is planning a half-marathon and other running and walking events in September called Run With Heart. Weve had events here at the hospital, but I would say this is our first event that will attract individuals from all over the area.Steve Cosio, president of Discover Historic Mansfield Inc. and veteran applicant for hotel-motel funds, also attended. The non-profit will be seeking financial backing again for its seventh annual Mansfield Music and Arts Festival, which for the second year will be the centerpiece of a week-long event in October that includes Wurst Fest and small music performances every day.He said the forms and process arent problematic.Its making the groups who are requesting funds more accountable for putting heads in beds, Cosio said. We will continue to fill out those forms any way they ask us.Last year, the downtown group requested $112,000 and received $89,500. Cosio said the board has not yet determined the amount it will seek for the upcoming fiscal year.Its helped the the music and arts festival tremendously, Cosio said, adding that the subsidy makes up about half of the groups total budget for the event. We would not be able to bring in the caliber of music acts that we have been able to present the past six years in a row without the funding from the city of Mansfield.The largest share of last years funding covered the entire budget of the citys one-person tourism department, which received $180,000 for its second year of operation. It was granted $158,000 for its first year.Tourism Manager Theresa Cohagen,who presented the tweaked application process at the class, called it a refresher, but said the emphasis of the process is booking hotel rooms.Were giving them money to spend, and theres a law that says how its supposed to be spent, Cohagen said. Thats how we get the money, and I think some people are still not clear on that.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann