Lodging tax collections below predictions

City: No concerns about reaching $9 million estimate

The average monthly collection for Jefferson City's lodging tax is below initial projections, but city officials say they are confident it will reach the $9 million needed for construction of a conference center.

The city’s lodging tax collections were reported at $1.704 million from May 2011 to December 2012. Of the total funds collected, three of the seven cents goes to the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the rest goes to the city’s conference center fund. That fund was reported at $954,601, with an average monthly collection of $47,730.

Sheila Pearre, chief accountant for the city, said the money for the conference center is coming in lower than what has been projected, which could cause concerns as the City Council is in the review process for three proposals that have been submitted on a conference center concept. Those concepts likely use all, if not more, of the $9 million the city claims to have available for construction of the facility.

City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said the city is sure it will reach its goal of $9 million, but the collections will continue to be monitored by the Finance Department.

“Although lodging tax is down, we still are confident in having $9 million available,” Nickolaus said.

He said it’s still very early in the collections process; reports show 20 months of collections with just more than $950,000 total collected. Initially, the city predicted $600,000 collected per year, which would come out to $50,000 per month. Right now, the fund is less than $50,000 short of what it was predicted to collect.

Nickolaus said the city is at least one year away from looking at any bonds for the conference center and “a lot can happen in that time.” Collections could increase in that time frame, he said, but no one will know for sure until the moment they are ready to bond.

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner said he’s not concerned at this point, but the council just needs to know where the fund stands.

“It’s just something that we have to be aware of and pay attention to,” Scrivner said. “I don’t think I know enough to be concerned at this point ... I want to see if there’s a trend there.”

Scrivner said the real issue is that the council has been very upfront with people about not intending to spend money the city doesn’t have and they need to stick to it.

“We want to make sure the money’s there,” Scrivner said. “Things could turn.”

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll said it’s still very early and she’s confident the fund should be fine.

“We’re talking year one,” Carroll said. “We’re kind of in the early stages.”

If adjustments have to be made, she said, the city is not so far along in the conference center process that those couldn’t be discussed. There is plenty of time to overcome any challenges that arise, Carroll said.

“But I honestly don’t anticipate that,” Carroll said.

Plus, she said, when the conference center is built, hotels likely will see an increase in attendance, which would increase the lodging tax collections.

Phase one wrapping up

The Jefferson City Council is moving forward in the review process for three conference center proposals, with another closed session meeting scheduled for Monday.

The meeting at 4:30 p.m. Monday was supposed to take place Thursday afternoon, but the winter storm that hit the area caused the council to reschedule.

City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus said the hope is Monday’s meeting will wrap up phase one of the process. Then the council can move into phase two, which would consist of design work and negotiations. Nickolaus said the plan also would be to open the process up to the public at some point within phase two, though there is no current plan as to when that would happen.

He said the process seems to be moving forward at a good pace, but he could not provide any further details.

“There’s really not much I can tell you,” Nickolaus said. “I think it’s progressing.”

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