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Tourism Stash Proves ‘HOT’ Topic At County Commissioners Court

Jones Dorothy Harrison, president of the Houston County Museum aka Depot Museum (pictured above), has been on a mission of late to find operating and maintenance funds for the museum.  The county contributes budgeted funds for insurance payments, but on Tuesday, July 22, said “no” to a portion of the county’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds.  The museum has received recent assistance from the Crockett Rotary Club and the City of Crockett, which approved a portion of its HOT funds for the museum’s operation and advertising expenses. (Photo by Lynda Jones) Dorothy Harrison, president of the Houston County Museum aka Depot Museum (pictured above), has been on a mission of late to find operating and maintenance funds for the museum. The county contributes budgeted funds for insurance payments, but on Tuesday, July 22, said “no” to a portion of the county’s Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds. The museum has received recent assistance from the Crockett Rotary Club and the City of Crockett, which approved a portion of its HOT funds for the museum’s operation and advertising expenses. (Photo by Lynda Jones)

By Sherry Driskell, Courier Reporter

The Houston County Commissioners Court had standing room only for its regular meeting Tuesday, July 22.

Three entities asked for a portion of the Houston County Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds.

Those entities included the Houston County Museum (Depot Museum), Piney Woods Fine Arts Association and the Michelle Lynn Holsey Foundation.

The commissioners unanimously denied the request for funds for the Houston County Museum.

Dorothy Harrison, president of the museum board, had submitted an application for $10,000 to be used for maintenance, advertising, utilities, alarm system fees and repairs.

The museum relies only on donations to operate annually. The museum houses historical items (such as an antique Crockett fire truck), pictures and over all history of the county.

Harrison's application states that the museum drew 293 visitors in 2013, with about 2/3 of them being from out of town and some even from out of state.

By state law (Tax Code 352), the County of Houston collects a Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) from hotels, bed and breakfasts, and other lodging facilities which may be used only to directly promote tourism and the hotel and convention industry including:

• Promotions of the Arts that Directly Promote Tourism and the Hotel and Convention Industry: the encouragement, promotion, improvement and application of the arts that can be shown to have some direct impact on tourism and the hotel/convention industry.
All forms of art include instrumental and vocal music, dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture, design and allied fields, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, motion picture, radio, television, tape and sound recording, and other arts related to the presentation, performance, execution and exhibition of these major art forms will be considered.
• Historical Restoration and Preservation Activities that Directly Promote Tourism and the Hotel and Convention Industry: historical restoration and preservation projects or activities or advertising and conducting solicitation and promotional programs to encourage tourists and convention delegates to visit preserved historic sites or museums.

Harrison and Melissa Mosley, county auditor, spoke on behalf of the community and historians to preserve the museum for future generations.

Mosley said there is about a $140,000 balance in the county's HOT funds account.

During the discussion, Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchens said the tax is for "heads and beds" (i.e, it is intended to bring people to stay overnight at local lodging facilities) and that Harrison was unable to prove how many of the museum visitors actually patronized local hotels and motels.

In the same meeting, the commissioners granted Piney Woods Fine Arts $5,000 for country singer Merle Haggard's Sept. 1 performance, and $5,000 for Michelle Lynn Holsey Foundation's NCHA Cutting event, benefit dinner, auction and concert in October.

Both PWFAA and the Michelle Lynn Holsey Foundation had requested $10,000.

In the vote to give HOT funds to PWFAA, Precinct 3 Commissioner Pat Perry voted "no"; Precinct 4 Commissioner Kennon Kellum abstained. Kitchens, along with Precinct 1 Commissioner Roger Dickey and County Judge Erin Ford voted "yes".

The vote to give funds to the Michelle Lynn Holsey Foundation was unanimous.

UPDATE:  Houston County Auditor Melissa Mosley was not speaking on behalf of the museum.  She was explaining to commissioners and the public how the HOT funds can be spent.