July 24, 2013 10:52:59 AM
Nathan Gregory - email@example.com
During the annual Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitor's Bureau's Board of Directors retreat, members unanimously opted to table the proposed budget for the 2014 fiscal year after requests for additional line items to be broken down into more detail.
The projected income for the CVB budget at the end of the current fiscal year is $1,633,340, according to information provided on a draft of the proposed FY '14 budget. Projected income for that fiscal year is $1,663,388. City tax receipts are expected to contribute $1,538,136 of the income for next year, a 1 percent increase from $1,553,340 for the current fiscal year. Tom Buckley of T.E. Lott & Co., who was at the meeting to guide the board through the proposed budget, said the CVB is expected to receive more from the county than the $78,000 it planned for initially.
"We're already collecting $89,000," he said. "We prorated that out based on what we collected now and left it flat at $123,252 (for Fiscal Year 2014)."
The two main expense line items board members asked to have broken down were what was budgeted for marketing and advertising and CVB employee salaries. A motion to keep funding for local grant programs at the current year's allotment of $130,000 instead of reducing that amount to $95,000 failed.
The marketing and advertising line item proposes a 34.8 percent increase from this year's budget of $230,000 to $310,000 next year. Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said the additional funding was needed to purchase billboard advertising.
"We need billboards going from Atlanta to Birmingham, coming into Columbus (and) the corrdior from Jackson going into Mississippi State," Carpenter said. "I also have money budgeted for the Hunt Cultural Heritage Museum, the Rosenzweig Arts Center, the Ten-Tom Waterway Museum, the Lee High (School) Museum and $5,000 for each of those, which is $20,000."
Board President Dewitt Hicks said the members needed more say over where advertising would be used.
"To me, that's for board consideration. We can budget, but when it comes to action on spending the money, the board needs to have it," Hicks said. "I'd like to suggest that the board have more input into what the money is going to be spent for and what the results are."
Board member Bernard Buckhalter first suggested the line item be broken down.
"What is (advertising) going to? Where are you spending it? How would you spend it on billboards? Everything needs to be shown in line items so we know," he said. "It will cut out a whole lot of confusion."
Mark Castleberry said while the board should be cognizant on how advertisement funding is being spent, it should also place trust in Carpenter's abilities as executive director in knowing how best the increased amount can be used to lure visitors.
"I understand there's $300,000 and the board needs to know better what it's going for," Castleberry said. "We need to get an attitude of understanding the big picture, but if we're going to start approving line items...if we can't trust the administrator to research and make (advertising) decisions, we should probably get a new administrator."
"That's basic. How do you know where your money is being spent? We have one big item that says this is for advertising," Buckhalter replied. "You've got another item that says production and special advertising. You need a line item budget to know what's what. The whole budget needs to be line item(ized)."
Carpenter said the specialties advertising expense item, a projected $35,000, is for smaller promotional tools.
"Special advertising items are pins and chairs ... If I say $18,000 on pins and chairs and sticky notes and bags for family reunions, that would inundate you with unnecessary paperwork," she said.
Local grant funding
Buckley pointed out that the board had awarded a total of $47,597.22 in grants to local festivals from October of last year up to last month. At that rate, the total amount would not reach $95,000 by the end of this fiscal year, meaning the CVB could shave 26.9 percent of the $130,000 set aside this year for local grants down to $95,000.
"We've already had Market Street (Festival) tell us that they're not going to ask for a grant next year, and there's no sense in putting money in a program when you don't need the money," Carpenter explained. "What we're trying to do after 12 years is have some of these entities become self-sustaining. We want to do what Pilgrimage did this year. They gave the money back that was the start-up funding."
Buckhalter said the amount for this year needed to remain as is once the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
"I'd rather be overbudgeted than underbudgeted on the program. If we fall short, we're scrambling around," he said. "I'd rather keep it as it was last year and if we don't spend it, that's great. That will go on next year."
Buckhalter then made a motion to keep local grant funding for next year at $130,000. The motion died in a 4-4 stalemate due to the lack of a majority. Buckhalter, Hicks, Whirllie Byrd and Nadia Dale were in favor, with Castleberry, Bart Wise, Leon Russell and Rissa Lawrence opposed.
Salaries to be itemized
The board also voted unanimously to break down the line item on CVB employee salaries. The projected expenditure for the end of this year, $253,459.60, is 1.3 percent lower than the $256,786.24 proposed for next year. Added detail on that item will show how much each employee will be paid.
Before discussing the upcoming budget, members met in executive session for approximately three hours before attorney David Dunn, who was substituting as counsel for the board in Chris Hemphill's absence, announced they had approved Carpenter's contract as amended. All of the CVB board members, which are also the members for the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, also met in executive session for about 20 minutes before Dunn announced they'd adopted her contract with that entity as amended. Details on those amendments were not elaborated on in open session.
See Thursday's edition of The Dispatch for more information on the strategic plan portion of Tuesday's CVB retreat.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.