COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The City Council held its first regular meeting in its newly-renovated City Hall chambers, and its first main order of business was a debate about how the city uses its Lodging and Auto Rental (LART) tax.
The tax on hotel, motel and vehicle rentals funds several dozen groups, organizations and events which use the money for a variety of purposes -- from parades and projects to neighborhood festivals.
A citizen committee evaluates applications and decides who qualifies for funding; $7.7 million is expected to be allocated next year.
The Council initially expected to pass the issue on consent, meaning without discussion; however, Councilwoman Yolanda Avila took issue with the application process.
Avila, whose district is the city's southeast side, said that her district often gets bypassed for LART funds when compared to other events and other areas of town.
"I had a cultural event ask for $40,000 and got only $10,000," she said. "That's barely enough to cover the cost of staging the event. And then there were the fireworks last year that were spread out across town. The southeast side was the only location that wasn't included."
Some council members said that, by definition, LART revenue can be used only for events that bring in more tourists from outside the city and state.
"A group in my district applied for funds and didn't get any," said Councilman Wayne Williams. "That's part of the process and people need to be aware of how it works."
However, during public comments, several citizens called in with examples of cultural events that attract their share of tourists from out of town.
Avila received support from some council members but in the end, the council voted 7-2 to approve the allocations -- with Avila and Councilman Bill Murray opposed.
Still, the discussion may lead to changes in the application and decision process.
One LART committee member who phoned in her comments said, "There is a significant lack of awareness about what we do and how we do it."
But another committee member said, "It's a difficult issue. We take applications seriously, but we have more work to do. We can and should do better."