WILMINGTON — A war of words between city council members and the Clinton County Convention and Visitors Bureau took another turn Thursday after one member responded to a CVB letter that circulated earlier this month.
Council member Matt Purkey, reading from a prepared statement, said the letter contained “incendiary language and a call to action to save local tourism, but it doesn’t seem to represent the full scope of the legislation that council is pursuing.”
“I would have to totally disagree with him,” said CVB Executive Director Debbie Stamper about Purkey’s comments. “We have looked at what that budget would look like and we would practically have to cut every single line item. … You can’t cut anybody’s budget by that amount without there having to be some drastic changes.”
The letter in reference, signed by Stamper, said council will vote July 21 “on whether or not they will cannibalize half of our funding which comes to us by way of a lodging tax that’s collected by the hotels from transient guests.”
The letter said the amount is about $50,000 of the CVB’s $300,000 budget.
“If they vote to take this income from us, nearly every line item from our budget will have to be slashed,” Stamper wrote, saying that would reduce printed materials, paid advertising, social media marketing, financial assistance to tourist groups and memberships in local organizations. “Speaking briefly on our behalf would be greatly appreciated and may alter the vote that evening. … We need you!”
Purkey said the judiciary committee, of which Purkey is a member, learned that the “working agreement” was to give the CVB 90 percent of the hotel lodging taxes and retain 10 percent for the city’s general fund.
“Investigation has shown that there is no legislation to support this arrangement, and frankly, I believe that a 10 percent administration fee is too high,” Purkey said. “It didn’t appear that the original legislation was being followed, and quarterly updates were not being given to council. This was just a ‘working agreement’ between the two entities.”
Instead, Purkey said the original legislation “states that the amounts allocated herein and hereby to the CVB will be appropriated by city council in its annual appropriations ordinance and may be amended as requested by the appropriate authority and approved by city council.”
Purkey said the legislation also requires quarterly financial and performance reports of the CVB and an annual operations report showing its use for the funds.
Stamper told the News Journal that while the Ohio Revised Code requires at least a 50 percent allocation, it doesn’t preclude the city from allocating more of the bed tax to the CVB.
“The thing that is so surprising and so controversial is that we’ve always gotten the full amount less the administrative fee of 10 percent and then all of a sudden for them to come back and say we’re going to lower that amount,” Stamper said. “We’re showing accountability and progress in the use of those funds, so it’s bewildering as to why they would do that.”
Stamper also said that council member Joe Spicer, who serves as the city’s representative on the CVB’s board and was absent Thursday, is privy to the board’s dealings.
“It’s just always been kind of an unspoken understanding that that representative would make those comments to full council,” Stamper said.
Purkey went on to say that the committee decided to amend the original legislation to make it more clear. That legislation, which will be voted on by council July 21, will provide 50 percent of the bed tax to the CVB automatically, as required by state law, and allow council to appropriate 49 percent into tourism development. The CVB would be able to apply for those funds as would other organizations and city departments.
That legislation, Purkey said, would also require quarterly financial and performance reports and the submission of a budget request in the fall.
“Finance committee would evaluate and allocate accordingly,” Purkey said. “We would presume that future quarterly presentations would include updates as to how the additional funds were being used to grow tourism, specifically in the city of Wilmington.”
Stamper said requiring the CVB to apply for funds undermines its autonomy as an independent organization and that it would be difficult to present a budget in fall when she normally receives contracts in January.
“They’re using that to manipulate the diversion of those funds,” she said. “They can certainly do that, but there’s no justification for why they would do that. And as I’ve brought up before, if other organizations apply for that money, who is going to keep track of their accountability?”
Purkey told the News Journal that while the legislation only speaks to the CVB’s commitments, he “would love to see” similar accountability of any recipient of the funds. The burden of placing those restrictions would be on finance committee, which would recommend a budget for council’s consideration. Purkey is not a member of that committee.
“We are an independent organization, a board of trustees, and we intend to remain that way,” Stamper said. “We don’t want to have to go to the city and ask for money. We know what we need to do to promote travel and tourism and we want to remain independent.”
Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss the matter at its next meeting on July 21 at 7:30 p.m. Presumably, the ordinance would be introduced by the judiciary committee.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.