Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau board members Whirllie Byrd, Bernard Buckhalter and Nadia Dale gather outside the CVB office after a special festival funding meeting on Wednesday afternoon. The board voted to move $26,250 previously designated for the restoration of the old river bridge to the festival grant fund. Photo by: Kelly Tippett/Dispatch Staff
April 12, 2012 9:56:16 AM
At a specially called meeting Wednesday, the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau's board added an additional $26,250 to its local grant fund.
"Our budget for local grants was $100,000 for this year," CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said. "But we had to pay out an additional $26,250 in 2011 grants. My recommendation is to reimburse the $26,250 back into the local grant funds. We can take the money from the bridge fund, which is a line item on the budget. If we do this, we will still be $5,500 over budget for festival funding."
Carpenter said the CVB, whose funding comes from a two percent tourism tax added on to the city's sales tax, had about $50,000 more in collected revenue and the money was placed in the bridge fund. The bridge fund is money set aside for an Old Highway 82 bridge renovation project. The CVB will pay $133,000 in matching funds for the renovation; Lowndes County and Columbus each committed to pay $133,000 also. The bridge project was recently delayed after initial bids received were over the project's budget. City Engineer Kevin Stafford asked the City Council for permission to re-bid the project on April 2.
Carpenter's recommendation did not bode well with board member Bernard Buckhalter.
"We need to let that bridge money stay in that fund," Buckhalter said. "We don't know when the city is going to ask for it. We need to look at the budget and find other money. I think we should leave that money alone."
Board Chairman George Swales assured Buckhalter and the board the bridge money would not be needed in the current fiscal year budget.
"I've met with (Stafford) and the original bid process failed," Swales said. "The project has been delayed anywhere from five months to eleven months. We were also told we would be the last entity invoiced for our part of the payment. It makes sense to me to use that money to bring our budget back up."
Buckhalter continued to debate Swales on the bridge fund.
"We didn't know until a couple of months ago we needed to come up with the money for the bridge," he said. "The city could call us on this at any time. We don't know. Can we not look at the budget and look for more money?"
The board voted 7-1 to use the bridge money for festival funding. Buckhalter opposed the motion.
"We still need to look at the budget," Buckhalter said. "You can't move $26,250 and not look at the budget. We said we were going to look for more money in the budget. We didn't say we were going to move bridge money. We can't just move bridge money and adjourn. This isn't what we voted to do."
The specially called meeting was the result of a motion made by Buckhalter, during the board's February meeting. After the board voted to fund Market Street Festival and Juneteenth Festival at less than what was budgeted in 2011, Buckhalter motioned to "have the whole board look at the budget to find more money to fund festivals." The motion was passed on a 5-3 vote.
After the meeting, Carpenter defended her recommendation.
"The bridge fund is a line item on our budget," Carpenter said. "We did exactly what we were supposed to do. We found some money in the budget and moved it into the local grants fund."
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