CVB eliminates tourism grants

August 20, 2013 11:10:45 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau board of directors approved next year's budget Monday, which establishes grant amounts for local festivals and does away with tourism grants. 


For the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30, tourism grants have been awarded a maximum of $15,000, 25 percent of which had to be spent on advertising and promotion. Those grants also limit entertainment spending to 25 percent. Quality of life events could be funded up to $8,000 and could be used only for advertising, promotional materials and entertainment, but there are no limits on what can be spent on each category. 


Under the new budget, tourism grants will no longer exist and all local festival grants will be considered quality of life events, CVB executive director Nancy Carpenter said. 


Prior to approving local grant amounts, directors voted 6-2 to set the maximum amount of funding that can be awarded to a quality of life event to $10,000. Leon Ellis and Bart Wise were the two opposing votes. The amount budgeted for the 11 local grants is $95,000, a $35,000 decrease from the $130,000 budgeted this year. 


The festivals receiving funding include: Artesia Days, Caledonia Days, Crawford Days, Dinner Theatre, MLK Dream 365, Juneteenth Festival, Market Street Festival, Roast N Boast, Seventh Avenue Heritage Festival, Tennessee Williams Tribute and Southside Townsend Blues Festival. 


Board member Rissa Lawrence noted the amount approved for local grants does not account for people who wish to start new events. Board president Dewitt Hicks said the budget could be amended in the future to allow for start-up event funding and approval of the $95,000 was simply to lock in the listed grants for 2014. 


The action means it won't be necessary for organizers of those festivals to come back before the board requesting funding because it has already been appropriated, Carpenter said.  


"Even though they would not make an application for the grant, the guidelines exist as far as we would not accept cash payments or just the receipt. It would have to be a check presented with an invoice," she said. "We almost went down the line of what the Mississippi Development Authority approves for their grants and ours is very similar." 


Director Bart Wise noted the tendency of many events having been funded each year for several years, a practice that needs to be reconsidered in the future. 


"A lot of these have been here year-in and year-out. Some of these festivals have got the ability to get out and work and get sponsorships," Wise said. "(We need to) work on a phase-out where we're not continually funding a large part of their revenue." 


Director and CVB grant committee member Mark Castleberry, who participated Monday via teleconference, said board members tend to have philosophical differences depending on each event. 


"Some feel as I do that we should have seed money and start events," he said. "If we see that over a period of time we're merely supporting the event, I think that's poor stewardship." 


Ellis was the only opposition in a 7-1 vote approving local grants for FY 2014. 


The board also unanimously approved $124,700 in recreation grant funding. CVB funding will go toward soccer, hunting, swimming, baseball and fishing tournaments among others. Events also receiving CVB appropriations Fireworks on the Water, Possum Town Triathlon and the Magnolia Speedway - Lucas Oil Series. 


A 34-percent increase in marketing funding also passed unanimously. The CVB budgeted $309,974 for advertising in billboards, magazines, newspapers and Internet. 


Overall, the balanced budget projects $1,633,340 in income. 




Directors question consultant contract 


During the CVB board's July retreat, consultant Don Anderson spoke about developing a strategic plan to set long-term goals. On Monday, director Bernard Buckhalter questioned the $3,500 Anderson received for his services, saying he thought Anderson was only going to explain the plan Anderson initially drafted in 2005 rather than revise it. Buckhalter brought the discussion up when the board was supposed to be considering approving financials. 


"I was under the impression that he was just coming to explain the strategic plan we already had," Buckhalter said.  


"And you thought he was going to come for no charge?" Carpenter said. 


Hicks then said the board needed to wait until it reached the point in the agenda to discuss Anderson's contract. It was then that Carpenter elaborated on what Anderson had done and what the board needed to approve to continue the strategic planning process. 


"Things changed drastically in our city from 2005-13. Mr. Anderson did do some work. I admit I was at fault because I agreed for him to come when everybody wanted a strategic plan," Carpenter said. "I worked with him and the total cost was $5,000. It was paid for out of our marketing efforts. We paid him a $3,500 retainer and he is due $1,500." 


There's the potential for an extra $3,500 plus traveling expenses that Anderson would be paid for his collaboration in developing a destination and marketing plan, which would bring him back to Columbus next month to speak with local business owners, she said.  


"It would be a follow-up with board members and staff," Carpenter said. "We'll have a meeting at the Trotter work with community partners to make sure they understand this plan. It's one thing to say, 'This is what we need in Columbus.' He is suggesting he needs to come back. I agree with that." 


Buckhalter said he felt "misled." 


"He wasn't coming to do the development plan. He was coming to explain the plan that we had. If he's coming to do a plan or even to modify a plan, we should have been told that," he said. "We were told he was coming to explain the plan he had put together. We should have known up front what was happening and we did not." 


Director Nadia Dale said she agreed with Buckhalter but the board needed to follow through with the strategic plan. 


"I wish we had a clearer understanding that we were in a service agreement," Dale said. "I do want to say I am one of those board members that 100 percent believes we need to be in this process of strategic planning right now."  


Dale said going forward, the board may want to create a contractual services policy. 


"I don't want to get into micromanaging here, but I do feel like something to the tune of $5,000 and potentially $8,500 for a strategic plan for this entire organization, was more of a board decision and I'm just now being made aware of it," she said.  


The motion to pay Anderson the remaining $1,500 passed 7-1 with Buckhalter opposed.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.