Sales Tax Still Being Waived For Evacuees

It's been almost two months since Hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast and nearly four weeks since Rita wreaked havoc in East Texas. Plenty of evacuees have gone back home to pick up the pieces, but others are still here.

Rene Lott said, "When we left, my house was in bad shape; almost like underwater. Even though the water receded, it's still bad. You can't even live in the house where I live at in New Orleans."

Lott and other evacuees live at the Holiday Inn in Lufkin for free, thanks to FEMA. On September 2nd, Governor Perry signed a proclamation keeping the hotel industry from collecting taxes from Katrina evacuees.

Stephen Trotter, general manager of the Holiday Inn, said, "For 60 days, we're not supposed to collect taxes. On October 30th, we're supposed to start collecting taxes from Katrina evacuees. Rita evacuees are tax exempt until November 19th."

Although FEMA will continue to pick up the tab for evacuees staying in East Texas hotels, there will still be money lost. The city gets seven percent of the tax money hotels collect. Several businesses in Lufkin depend on the hotel/motel tax for revenue.

"The zoo, the civic center, the expo center, the Museum of East Texas, and the [Texas] Forestry Museum - some of the funds are used to support those entities," Trotter said.

The estimated sales tax loss for Lufkin is $50,000. City leaders plan to cut back on certain expenses to try and balance the budget.

Twenty-three percent of Holiday Inn's guests in Lufkin are Rita and Katrina evacuees. They're expected to live there at least another month.