January 15, 2019 11:00:53 AM
The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau has formally agreed to fund seven local festivals this year, pending the renewal of a 2-percent restaurant sales tax.
CVB's board on Monday approved an interlocal agreement with Columbus and Lowndes County that would divert a total of $87,500 to the festivals -- or $12,500 each. Those festivals include Juneteenth, Southside Townsend Park Blues Festival, Seventh Annual Heritage Festival and Market Street, all in Columbus; as well as Caledonia Days, Artesia Days and the Crawford Cotton Boll.
The Attorney General's Office must approve the interlocal agreement for it to be valid, and the Legislature must establish the restaurant sales tax this session for anything to be official.
"I'm very thankful that we've reached this milestone," CVB board president DeWitt Hicks said after the vote. "We passed (the interlocal agreement). So it should be smooth sailing from here on out."
Voting on the agreement took place without discussion from the board. Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders and Columbus Mayor Robert Smith were present for the meeting, but did not speak.
The previous county-wide restaurant tax expired in June 2018 after the Legislature did not renew it due to an argument over whether to expand the number of restaurants required to collect it. In Fiscal Year 2017, it raised almost $2 million, which was split between the CVB for tourism development and the Golden Triangle Development LINK for economic development. The nearly $1.7 million CVB received made up more than 90 percent of its budget, and the organization was forced to slash expenses and downsize staff after the tax expired.
This iteration of the tax, which is now before the Legislature and is expected to be approved, would be citywide and would provide $700,000 directly to city and county recreation, as well as $250,000 to The LINK and the remainder to CVB.
CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said the organization will operate with $775,000 this year, if the legislation is renewed. That is about the amount CVB operated with 15 years ago, Hicks said.
"We'll just have to be smart and frugal. But we've done it before and we can do it again," Carpenter said. "The unknown is what's hard. But now that we have the numbers, we can work with that."
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