By Anita Miller
No one in the city of Buda will have their water turned off for lack of payment and late fees will be waived through April, the city council agreed in a special meeting March 20.
They also discussed ways to give struggling hotels some financial relief in exchange for employee retention initiatives.
Council approved unanimously Mayor George Haehn’s resolution to extend indefinitely the local disaster declaration approved earlier this month, and added the closure of daycare centers, as ordered by Count Judge Ruben Becerra.
In all matters pertaining to the COVID -19 pandemic, the orders of a city are subservient to those of a county, and counties are subservient to the state.
The council also discussed but took no action to defer Hotel Occupancy Taxes (HOT) for February and March. February taxes were due on March 20. That would require that hotels use the money to help retain employees.
Already, Director of Tourism Lysa Gonzales told the council, occupancy at Buda’s hotels has been decimated — from 95 to 100 percent in February, to six to 20 percent now, with the majority stuck “sitting in the teens.”
She said approximately 39 people have already lost their jobs at Buda hotels.
Downtown has also taken a big hit. Main Street Manager Maggie Gillespie said that while “last week, all our businesses were open with no changes in hours.” On Monday, March 16, she said about 75 percent of them were open and by the end of the week, “less than a quarter are actually open” and providing curbside service and delivery.
Of special concern was the Inspired Minds arts center, which had only recently opened its doors in the old City Hall building. Deputy City Manager Micah Grau said the owners of the business has requested that their rent to the city be waived or reduced for a time. Already, he said, Inspired Minds has cut back on classes attended mainly by senior citizens that constituted a central portion of their business plan.
In opening remarks, Mayor George Haehn took up the language of President Donald Trump, who characterized the current situation as a war against an unseen enemy.
“We are engaged in a series of campaigns and campaigns are a series of battles. Battles are a series of engagements fought by individuals in firefighters — that’s what we are in. Our mission is to make sure the people of Buda are as safe as we can possibly make them without trampling on their rights. The execution of that mission is up to individuals departments. The campaign is to slow, then stop, then eradicate this virus.
The council also named a task fore comprised of the Buda Economic Development Corporation, the Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Director, Tourism Director and other city staff who are, over the next couple of weeks, to look at ways to help hotels and other businesses. Those issues are expected to be voted on in April but will be retroactive to March 20.
The council will meet again on Tuesday, March 24.