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Council members will try to take part in hotel-tax hearing from D.C.

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at 6:27 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at 11:47 a.m.

On Tuesday, the public will get its chance to weigh in on a tax hike on hotel bills in front of as many as four empty Wichita City Council seats.

A scheduling mistake by city staff means the council will hold a public hearing on a tourism business improvement district for Go Wichita with as few as three members behind the bench. Four are required to conduct city business, but four council members, including Mayor Carl Brewer, will be in Washington, D.C., for the annual National League of Cities Congressional City Conference.

“A mistake was made,” Brewer said. “There’s no other way to put it.”

If City Hall technology cooperates, Brewer and council members Lavonta Williams, James Clendenin and Jeff Blubaugh will take part in the public hearing via conference call, interacting with any members of the public who want to comment on the tax hike. Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner will chair the meeting in Wichita, with council members Jeff Longwell and Janet Miller present.

If technology comes up short, more council members will stay in Wichita for the hearing. Two chair NLC committees, the mayor said, but they could handle the Washington, D.C., meetings by phone.

The city’s law department will require the absent council members to use land lines for the conference call, since cellphones have delays.

Why not move the date of the public hearing? By law, city staff was required to send out about 18,000 notices to affected businesses for the Tuesday hearing – notices that would have to be re-mailed if the hearing were rescheduled.

On Jan. 14, the council approved taxing authority for Go Wichita, signing off on a 2.75 percent new tax for all hotel bills – through a tourism business improvement district – to finance a $2.5 million annual marketing war chest. That money could also be available to market city-owned events, council members said.

The revenue would go toward an enhanced marketing effort as Go Wichita ramps up plans to land national conventions, a growth area in the local tourism business targeted by a recent study. The tourism business improvement district was recommended by a committee established by the council in September.

Combined with taxes already in place – including community improvement districts that helped fund construction for some hotels – Wichita hotel customers could be looking at tax add-ons to their bills in excess of 10 percent. That rate is at or slightly below the tax rate for travelers in other Kansas cities, city officials said.

Tuesday’s meeting is the second of two special meetings in a week. On Thursday, the council will meet at 4 p.m. to approve three Wal-Mart liquor licenses, for which renewal requests were late. The council typically meets on Tuesday.

The liquor licenses to be taken up Thursday are for Wal-Mart stores at 501 E. Pawnee, 11411 E. Kellogg Drive and 5475 N. Meridian, city officials said.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bwilsoneagle.

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