Jeff council okays community use of hotel/motel tax funds

Future of Welcome Center unknown, could be put “on hold”

The Jefferson city council at its Jan. 12 meeting approved a policy for the use of hotel/motel tax revenues that allows use of the fund by groups other than the Greene County Chamber. The policy provides $20,000 per year for indebtedness and operation of a proposed Welcome Center, but that may not be enough to guarantee the building’s completion.

Voters approved a 7 percent hotel/motel tax in 2001, with 80 percent of the revenues designated to the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s plan for a Welcome Center, and the increased amount of funding available with the opening of Cobblestone Hotel, brought the use of the funds into the public spotlight more than a year ago.

Adoption of the policy was recommended by a committee appointed by mayor Craig Berry last March after a tax force assembled by the Chamber determined that the Chamber is capable and should be the recipient of the tax funds to promote tourism, and that the city council should allow the use of hotel/motel tax funds for the Welcome Center.

The cumbersome policy sets up a three tiers of funding. Tier One provides to the Chamber an annual amount of $30,000 or 80 percent of the total hotel/motel tax revenue, whichever is less, to be used for the promotion and encouragement of tourism and convention business in the city of Jefferson.

Tier Two provides $20,000  or 80 percent of the excess gross hotel/motel tax receipts over $37,500, whichever is less, for the construction or payment of principal and interest on the Welcome Center. The city would require the Chamber provide a budget and plan for operating, maintaining and staffing the Welcome Center, and proof that the Chamber is capable of successfully operating and staffing such a center on a long term basis.

Tier Three funding would be available when 80 percent of the total hotel/motel tax receipts are in excess of the Tier One and Tier Two funding to the Chamber. It would be available to 501(c) organizations through an application process. The Chamber could apply for Tier Three funding. The policy is included in the council packet.

$30,000 would put Welcome Center “on hold”: Chamber treasurer Nikki Uebel addressed the council in the open forum portion of the meeting. She said that a meeting is scheduled for this coming Friday with city officials and the Chamber’s accountant to provide a tourism budget that justifies $40,000 in Tier One funding. According to Uebel, the banker the Chamber has worked with on the Welcome Center project has said the tourism budget is not viable without a total of $60,000, and that unless the city guarantees that amount ($40,000 and $20,000), “further development of the Welcome Center will need to be put on hold.”

Uebel asked that the council delay a decision until after that meeting, or that the council agree to consider amending the policy at its next meeting.

City attorney Bob Schwarzkopf told the council the committee had named the $30,000 amount in Tier One based on the Chamber’s previous tourism expenses.

Council member Gary Von Ahsen, who is not a member of the mayor’s committee, asked if there would be an advantage to waiting until after the meeting, and verified that the amount could be changed after the meeting.

“This is just an initial starting policy. It can be changed at the discretion of the council,” Berry said. Council member Larry Teeples made the motion to approve the policy. It was seconded by Harry Ahrenholtz and approved unanimously.

Council members Teeples and Lisa Jaskey are on the mayor’s committee. Jaskey was not at the council meeting but will be available for the Jan. 15 meeting with Uebel and the Chamber accountant.

Other community groups have already been eyeing hotel/motel tax funds. Greene County Development Corporation executive director Ken Paxton told the county supervisors last month that GCDC would request reimbursement for billboards along Highway 30, and that city administrator Mike Palmer told him GCDC would receive it.

Bell Tower Community Foundation president Carole Custer told the supervisors earlier this month that hotel/motel tax funds would be a possible funding source for that group, as well.

Uebel also asked the council about a request for reimbursement for 2015 tourism expenses in the council’s consent agenda. In November the council approved a request for reimbursement for the Chamber’s tourism and events coordinator at 100 percent. The December request was funded at only 45 percent, a figure based on the percentage of the county’s population that resides in Jefferson. The figure had been discussed in an earlier proposal, but had never been adopted by the council.  The council declined to pull the item and approved the lesser amount.

The Chamber also asked for reimbursement of $3,430 in utilities for 2015 in the vacant Welcome Center building. That was denied. The Chamber paid a year of expenses on an incomplete, vacant building.






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