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The city of Mission held a regular and special meeting this week, discussing the distribution of CARES Act funding.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, was enacted to address the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hidalgo County was awarded over $151 million – and depending on how much each municipality is getting per capita, the city of Mission will be receiving either $9.6 million or $11.2 million.
Last week, the city held a workshop so council members could discuss how that funding would be spent under the parameters laid out in the law. Mission City Manager Randy Perez spoke about the different categories in which CARES Act funding can be spent, including any expenses incurred due to COVID-19.
Council discussed the draft budget city staff laid out in regards to spending, but chose to wait until confirmation of the funds available and how they can be used was determined by the county. The County Commissioner’s Court met Tuesday, but according to Perez in the special meeting on Wednesday, the county had not decided on the subrecipient agreement.
The city council took the item on Wednesday into executive session, where they further discussed methods by which they would distribute the funds throughout the city. Once the agreement is approved by the county, the city will meet again to finalize.
Perez presented an item during the regular meeting on Monday regarding the CARES Act funding they discussed in the previous workshop. He sought direction from the council, and said they would look at how the county is handling distribution and make necessary adjustments from there. Council approved.
Council also discussed a potential ordinance for short-term rentals within Mission. The ordinance would establish regulations for the use of residential single-family dwelling units as short term rentals and ensure the collection and payment of hotel/motel occupancy taxes.
“It’s defined as a residential home, apartment, condominium, or any residential or real estate improvements that obtain sleeping accommodations in exchange for compensation for a period of less than 30 consecutive days,” Susana De Luna, Assistant Planning Director, said.
De Luna recommended that they adopt an ordinance to ensure accountability with rentals, as the department has received several complaints that people are renting their homes and the city doesn’t have a means of contacting the owner or renter.
“We’re trying to come up with an ordinance to enforce this,” De Luna said, adding they wanted to include some sort of penalty for those who do not comply and register with the city, but that it was not written in the proposed ordinance as a provision yet.
City Attorney Gus Martinez said it would act as a permit for Airbnbs and short-term rentals, and the permit fee is $200. If one of the versions presented was passed, the fine for not registering with the city would be $500.
Council member Ruben Plata made a motion to deny the request, saying he didn’t feel it was safe to have a rental property in a residential area, and that it would not be good for Mission hotels.
“I have a lot of citizens concerned that they do not want this type of business in their neighborhoods,” Plata said. “I think if we approve it to where we have a lot of Airbnb[s] in our community, I don’t think it’s very safe, and a lot of people have called me to complain about the noise or vehicles parked on their streets.”
De Luna and Martinez said the ordinance would not be for businesses, but for a short-term rental fee, stating that a lot of people are already renting their properties.
“But how can I go about not allowing my neighbor to rent his home that is vacant to somebody that we don’t even know?” Plata said. Martinez responded that the options would be to ban short-term rentals or allow the city to regulate it by issuing permits, and collecting occupancy taxes like a hotel.
De Luna said it is not regulated in Mission – people post rental listings on Facebook, and the Police Department cannot enforce regulations that are not in place. They know of ten residences so far where short-term rentals are taking place in Mission.
City Manager Perez said an issue is they have homes within residential areas that cause others to make complaints to the city, that they’re using the rentals during the weekend to have gatherings and parties. They can respond to the complaints regarding the noise ordinance, but the issue is they are responding to several locations for noise and disruption complaints.
“To me, it’s worse than giving a conditional use permit,” Plata said, noting that while hotels don’t do checks on their guests, they are at least staying in a commercial area rather than a residential neighborhood. “I think if someone wants to come and visit the city of Mission, we have plenty of hotels where they can stay.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Norie Gonzalez Garza agreed with Plata, saying that people rent Airbnbs with three or four bedrooms specifically to host larger gatherings, and they will basically garner a different party every weekend – and there is an ongoing pandemic.
Council member Jessica Ortega-Ochoa asked if the city even had the legal right to tell a homeowner they cannot rent to whoever they want, whenever they want. Martinez said they had to comply with the occupancy tax, and that they would need to go back and address the zoning issue of these lots to then not allow short-term rentals.
Council voted to deny the ordinance, with a directive to return with a repurposed ordinance that reflects the council’s concerns.