By Tom Nicol
The Crockett City Council, in a meeting held on Monday April 3, entered into a lengthy discussion on whether to end a moratorium on the building of billboards and to permit new off-premise signs in the city as reported in the Sunday edition of the Courier in Houston County.
According to the reports, the item on the meeting’s agenda relating to the matter called for members of the council to consider and approve an ordinance that would amend Chapter 13, Sections 13-201 and 13-209 of the city’s Code of Ordinances relating to licenses and business regulations.
Mayor Meadows, according to the newspaper article, commented, “The newer ones, (billboard structures), were built substandard. And that’s just a fact, whether its offensive to those who constructed them, or not”. The actual fact is that all new billboards were built under permit from the city, inspected by the City Code officer and signed off on as safe and permittable. They were not only built to city specifications but also to those specified by the State Right-of-Way Commission of the State of Texas.
Most are built on state thoroughfares such as SH 21, SH19, US 287, SH 7 and Loop 304, all state maintained roadways with structures, at the time of construction, also inspected by the State Highway Department and built to their specifications.
In answer to another question posed by Councilwoman Muriel Williams, Meadows commented, “The only revenue the city receives pertaining to a billboard is a permit fee when application is made to construct it.”
According to a subsequent interview with Houston County Appraisal District Chief Appraiser, Carey Minter, billboards are taxed in the same way as any other property. They are evaluated, usually based on the cost of construction, and taxes are levied at the same rate as those of any other private property such as homes and businesses, business furnishings, business vehicles and other business property.
The cost of building a small “sub-standard” billboard of wooden construction could range from $750.00 to $3000.00. TexDot regulations call for billboard construction applications to denote a prospective billboard as being of wooden or steel materials. Either is acceptable according to their standards. A “stacked” steel structure, with lights, could cost in the neighborhood of $30,000.00 to $150,000.00, depending on its height, the size of its advertising faces and other technical issues. That means the taxable value of each structure could rise to that of many homes located within the City of Crockett.
Now, let’s think about that for a moment.
Who among us wants to lose that tax revenue which, according to Ms. Minter, is applied to our Hospital District, local schools, our county governments and even the City of Crockett where the billboards are located?
Can we imagine, with the loss of those tax revenues, when combined with revenue reductions actuated by previously announced losses of the chemical plant in Lovelady, the State School in Crockett, the plant in Latexo and attrition, how lost revenues will be replaced?
The answer is easy – they must be replaced by the citizens of the community – you and I.
Another misrepresentation made at the Crockett City Council meeting, according to the newspaper report, regarded billboard lease terms. Most commercial leases of billboard faces by businesses for advertising are for a period of one year. At the end of that period another lease must be negotiated between the advertising business and the billboard owner.
However, the lease between the landowner and the billboard company is, by necessity, for a longer period. Why? Because the cost of construction, as outlined above, is such that lease prices, maintenance costs, electrification for lights and sales expenses, must be sufficient to create an opportunity to earn a profit for the billboard company. Otherwise there is no need for the billboard company to exist.
Several Councilpersons commented the billboards were an “eyesore”. Those same comments were voiced back in the 1990’s by members of the Crockett Downtown Beautification organization when billboards were first mounted on the east side of the Moosehead Restaurant.
Shortly thereafter, the same group requested billboard space in order to advertise their own activities.
Billboard advertising is a business in itself. Over $8,000,000,000 is spent on outdoor advertising in the U.S. each year and according to the Department of Transportation, traffic on our highways today is up 55% compared to 30 years ago. More than ever, people are watching billboards while “on the go” to work, children’s activities, on vacations and other travel requirements.
Historically, it is my understanding that members of the Crockett City Council and the Crockett Economic Development Corporation have used billboard advertising in the past, to promote our city’s business and entertainment opportunities to those traveling northward and southward toward Crockett from other municipal locations.
Then, there are those northbound travelers from the south coming up SH19. What about the lady traveling with three kids in the back seat crying for something to eat and being generally restless, the way kids are?
They follow signage instructions as they approach Loop 304 South and turn left, totally missing McDonald’s, Whataburger, Texas Burger and other kid friendly fast food dispensaries on the East Loop. Why? Because there are no advertising billboards available on the West Loop and thus no advertising.
It is foolishness to believe that businesses can prosper in today’s world without advertising. The city can regulate it as a business and therefore exercise some control over it or you can allow it to develop as a free enterprise, take your choice. But remember this country was founded on and we operate on a free market basis, so…..as we like to say, long live the United States of America, long live Free Market mentality and long live our Crockett business community.