October 14, 2010 12:10:00 PM
Another classic Columbus dust-up is in the making, this time between the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link and the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Like all fights over money, it got ugly quick.
The CVB, which manages a 2-percent tax on food and beverages in the city, is the second-largest contributor to the Link, behind Lowndes County. Since the 2004 extension of the tax, the CVB has given 15 percent of its revenue to the Link -- $193,000 in the last budget year alone.
The tax was created to promote tourism, while the Link''s focus is on industrial recruiting.
There''s no stipulation in the law that created the restaurant tax to give 15 percent to the Link, but an "understanding" has been in place, the Link says. The law simply states that the proceeds of the tax go to the CVB with no mention as to how the money is spent.
The Link''s 15 percent has swelled over the years as the restaurant tax has grown.
Now, the CVB is in the middle of all the things it was designed to do -- renovate the Tennessee Williams Home, build a new headquarters, and above all, create, sponsor and advertise local events to out-of towners.
The CVB even had its arm twisted by the city and the county to buy a bridge it didn''t want. The city and county had agreed, years ago, to fund the renovation of the old Highway 82 bridge into a pedestrian park. When it was time to foot the bill, they had a case of collective amnesia. The CVB was browbeaten into providing one-third of the local match.
The CVB is feeling the pinch. It warned the Link it might only get $160,000 instead of $193,000 this year.
Since then, the Link has been on a war footing against the CVB. Tourism board members have been summoned into the Link''s office, one by one, to be browbeaten by executive director Joe Higgins and, in at least one instance, board president Allegra Brigham. Higgins threatened that if he doesn''t get his full 15 percent, he''ll lift the "nuclear plunger" -- threatening to kill the tourism tax altogether, and the CVB along with it.
Of course, the Link would be in the blast zone too, killing itself.
The city would suffer immeasurably by such rash actions. This public display of immaturity does little for an image we spend thousands of dollars a year to burnish.
The Link has proved invaluable in attracting top-flight industries including Severstal, Paccar and American Eurocopter. We''ve heaped praise on Higgins and the Link on this page too many times to recall. The Dispatch is a proud member of The Trust, the top group of donors and advisers to the Link.
The Link and others might pooh-pooh the work the CVB does, comparing the value of a bass-fishing tournament to a steel mill. But advertising Columbus as the Southern gem that it is, and sponsoring and promoting events such as those surrounding this weekend''s Sam Hairston celebration, add immeasurable value to Columbus'' image and its livability. And without doubt, the "enhancements" provided by the CVB make Higgins'' job a lot easier.
There are cost savings to be found, we are sure, in both the Link and the CVB''s operations. It would be wise to continue a vigorous debate about the operation of both these organizations.
But to threaten the CVB''s existence, and the tax that funds cultural events and ensures the Link''s own vitality, is ridiculous, not to mention reckless. It''s an example of mutually assured destruction, to use an old Cold War phrase.
Let''s hope cooler heads prevail.