Brewster County hires company to help with HOT tax enforcement

BREWSTER COUNTY — Brewster County commissioners on Tuesday voted to hire a software company to help tackle the ongoing problem of short-term rental owners evading tax payments.

Austin-based company GovOS will help the county collect hotel occupancy taxes — or HOT taxes — from delinquent operators by building a digital database of short-term rental properties that fall within Brewster County and outside Alpine city limits, according to Brewster County Judge Greg Henington. 

“Hopefully from there, we can track that back to who’s paying their taxes and who’s not,” said Henington.

It’s a step towards addressing a long-standing issue for Brewster County, particularly Terlingua, where the presence of short-term rentals has ballooned and officials have struggled to collect the required taxes from all operators. The question of how to go about enforcement and overdue tax collection has been the subject of much discussion at past commissioners courts.  

The GovOS platform will make it far easier for staffers to keep track of property owners in the county and correspond with them, said South County Commissioner Sara Allen Colando.

“The interface is gonna make it very easy and quick for our county staff to reach out to these hoteliers and AirBNB owners to click a button and send them a letter saying, ‘Hi, you need to register,’” said Colando. “It should make their job so much easier.”

GovOS was one of two vendors that submitted proposals to the county — a selection committee recommended commissioners hire GovOS. With commissioners voting to move forward with the hire, the process of implementing the new tracking system can begin. County Treasurer Julie Morton estimated that process could take 3-4 months.

Texas state law requires that HOT taxes, which are collected and enforced at the county level, be used specifically to promote tourism — but officials have been pushing to expand the scope of the taxes. A bill filed recently in the Texas House would allow cities to use HOT taxes to fund infrastructure projects. The Texas Hotel Lodging Association has opposed efforts to expand the use of HOT taxes outside of tourism promotion.