Small Town News
Forum Jan. 19 to discuss bed tax
Amid tensions between the local chamber of commerce and City of Benson over bed tax money, an informational forum has been planned to help residents understand the history of Benson's bed tax, its intended purpose and recent events leading up to the debate that has erupted between the chamber and city regarding how the money is being allocated.
The forum, organized by JT Moffett, a local business owner and Benson San Pedro Valley Chamber of Commerce member, will be at 6 p.m. Thursday (Jan. 19) in the city council chambers.
An outspoken critic of City Councilman David Lambert because of how he handled a funding request by the chamber of commerce during a Dec. 12 city council meeting, Moffett is calling for Lambert's resignation, which is another issue that will be discussed at the forum. In addition, Moffett plans to address questions from the public and wants to hear from other speakers. City council members and city officials have been invited to the forum, as well.
"One thing that I want to make perfectly clear, is that I'm not doing this for the chamber," said Moffett. "I'm doing this for the motel, hotel and RV businesses that have been paying into this tax. My goal is for people to walk out of this meeting with a clear understanding of the bed tax's history in our town, why the hotel, motel and RV business in Benson supported the tax when it first started in 1989 and why the chamber of commerce should be entitled to the money collected through the tax."
At the Dec. 12 city council meeting, chamber executive director Marc Washington, Sr. represented the chamber in a funding request for about $19,500, money that had already been allocated to the chamber, but required approval from the city council. While the funds were eventually approved, Washington's request was first met with a number of questions about, how the chamber uses its money, why receipts and itemized invoices had not been presented to the city of Benson and why the chamber was using the money for purposes other than special events. Washington assured council members that all receipts and other financial accountability could be produced and that the chamber had already presented the city with the financial statements requested by City Manager Glenn Nichols. But when the questions persisted, Washington viewed them as a personal attack on his integrity. He submitted his resignation from the chamber effective Friday, and has filed a lawsuit against the city of Benson for defamation of character.
After listening to tapes of the meeting, many feel that Washington and city staff were "blindsided" by the questions that were initiated by Lambert at the meeting and that Washington should have been told to expect such questions beforehand as a professional courtesy.
At the following city council meeting on Jan. 9, Moffett spoke during the call to the public, where he voiced his dissatisfaction with Lambert, stating, "The straw that broke the camel's back came last month (at the Dec. 12 council meeting) when Mr. Lambert intentionally blind-sided everyone from the city manager to his fellow councilmen in his attack and interrogation of the chamber director."
At Thursday's forum, Moffett says he intends to provide "an in depth chronological timeline that shows the attack on the chamber director at the Dec. 12 council meeting was intentional." Moffett says that the timeline "clearly shows a premeditated attack on the chamber director and proves that David Lambert intended this blindsiding of Marc Washington, other council members and city staff."
However, Lambert says there was no "intentional blindsiding" on his part, that the questions he asked of Washington and city officials were straight forward. "I was questioning why the money was being used for things other than special events, which is how those funds are designated," Lambert said. "The money is not supposed to be used for other purposes, which is what the chamber wanted in the funding request." While Lambert says he does not dispute the original intent of the 2 percent bed tax, which was established in 1989 to help fund the chamber of commerce, the intended use has been changed through the years by different city councils. "The original intent of the bed tax was to give all the money to the chamber, and I don't dispute that," Lambert said. "But in 1992, that same council, under the same mayor, repealed their own action and changed how the money collected through the bed tax is used."
A special meeting and work session called for Tuesday night was canceled. The agenda contained resolutions that had they been approved would have ensured that 70 percent of the bed tax collected annually would have gone towards operating the chamber," said Rush. The second resolution called for a six-year contract between the chamber and city.
"The purpose of the contract is to ensure that in the absence of a public meeting being called regarding this arrangement, it will continue uninterrupted for six years. To ensure that the people of Benson are satisfied with the arrangement, the public will be allowed to contact council persons and request a public hearing at any time," Rush explained, before cancellation of Tuesday's meetings.
The third resolution would have allocated the funds in a lump sum annually, which would have allowed allowed the chamber to enter into advance contracts "to ensure the best possible use of the allocated funds," Rush said.
During an interview on Tuesday morning, Moffett said that he had hoped those resolutions to be "in the best interest of the hotel, motel and RV owners, since these are the businesses that are putting money into the bed tax. That's who we're supposed to be working for here."
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