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Tourism Year-End Report

Madison tourism office growing
but faces budget, board issues

Folk Festival on course to return for second year

By Don Ward
Editor

(December 2006) – The Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau is nearing the end of a tumultuous year after having lost its board president in scandal, struggling to save its new Folk Festival from financial demise and failing to balance its budget.

Linda Lytle

"We have said all along that without sponsors, you cannot stage these events."
– Tourism Dir. Linda Lytle

Yet, it perseveres while citing successes with the annual Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art and the 5-year-old Madison Ribberfest. Most recently, its popular “Nights & Nibbles” trolley hop to downtown restaurants to enjoy a progressive-style meal while touring the Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes is sold out in only its second year of existence. The CVB already is working on ways to expand and capitalize on this program for next year, according to Linda Lytle, the CVB’s executive director.
But the CVB does not directly receive any of the profits from these festivals for its day-to-day operations; rather, that money goes into a separate account under the control of the festival committees themselves. The CVB would use that money only in cases of emergency, said Lytle.
The CVB operates primarily on the bulk of innkeepers’ tax revenues from the county’s hotels and bed and breakfasts. The innkeepers’ tax money is collected by the state and then distributed to the CVB through the Jefferson County Board of Tourism.
The money collected during one month is distributed one or even two months later. The JCBT keeps about $1,000 of the income on hand as a rainy day fund and doles out various amounts of money to such groups as the Madison Regatta Inc. and others who request help on a case-by-case basis. The JCBT still has $11,000 in reserve to be handed out this year, according to Lytle.
After three mediocre years in the wake of the 9/11 terrorism attacks, the county’s innkeepers tax revenue shot up 21 percent in 2004, to $232,583. With the opening of Clifty Falls State Park’s new lodge in fall 2005, innkeepers tax revenues remained steady in 2005 at $219,355. Through the first eight months of 2006, revenues are again up 21 percent over the previous year and are expected to reach a record high by year end.
In 2006, the CVB board is operating on a budget of $195,000. In light of the rosey projection for 2006 collections, in November, Lytle asked for and received a $10,000 increase from the JCBT for next year’s budget. That will increase the CVB budget to a record $205,000. More than $140,000 is earmarked for salaries, $23,000 for employee benefits and social security. The rest of the budget goes for office expenses ($11,550), attending conferences and travel expenses ($7,000) and visitor services, such as postage to mail tourism literature ($10,800).

Innkeepers Tax Collections

Lytle said she may need to ask for an additional $5,000 in December to balance the 2006 year-end budget, which is coming up short. But she added that “in the 13 years I’ve been here, the Board of Tourism has never given the CVB money to balance its budget.”
In a surprise move, the JCBT also voted in November to increase the CVB’s marketing budget by $10,000 to help with the cost of publications and advertising. Mulligan will have $95,000 in 2007 to pay for advertising, publications and related costs.
In addition to innkeepers tax revenues, the CVB derives a portion of its operating income from the tourism gift shop proceeds and from the sale of local business listings in its annual tourism brochure. The city of Madison provides $10,000 annually to its budget, and the Jefferson County Commission has agreed to increase its portion from $250 to $1,250 next year.
Much of the rising operational costs, meanwhile, stems from a growing staff, insurance premiums and annual 5 percent across the board raise for Lytle and her staff members. The staff includes Lytle, two visitors services staffers in Tiffini Poling and Marci Jones, and part-time Marketing Director Ann Mulligan. Three other part-time employees alternate staffing the front desk on weekends.
The 2007 proposed budget calls for increasing Lytle’s salary to $39,994, while Poling will earn $26,624 and Jones will earn $24,128. Mulligan’s part-time salary will rise to $21,923. The three part-time weekend staffers will split $6,250. Madison Chautauqua coordinator Georgie Kelly earns $24,000 but her salary is paid from the Chautauqua account. Likewise, Madison Ribberfest director Kathy Ayers is paid $12,000 from the Ribberfest account.
At the October board meeting, member Joe Carr questioned Lytle about the 5 percent raise for her and her employees when the CVB couldn’t even balance its budget. He asked board member Betsey Vonderheide how much of an annual raise city employees receive. She replied that is is usually 3 percent but it is not guaranteed. Carr suggested that the CVB may not have the money for automatic raises next year. But the proposed 2007 budget Lytle presented at the November meeting included the raises.

Board deals with scandal, absenteeism

Meanwhile, the CVB was recently rocked when its president, Bob Wolfschlag, was investigated and charged by Madison City Police for theft of Madison Ribberfest tickets. As a result of the pending February trial date, Wolfschlag, who has served for more than a decade, was asked not to attend board meetings throughout the duration of his term, which ends in December. That left only seven active members of the board and a requirement that at least five be present for a quorum to conduct business. Only four board members attended the November meeting, so no votes were taken.
Up to nine board members are appointed for one and two-year terms. They serve as voluntary, unpaid members. Wolfschlag was appointed to the board by the Jefferson County Commission, so the commission must decide on his replacement in time for the January 2007 meeting.
Other board members and their appointing organizations are: Renie Stephens (JCBT), Mary Kay Dwyer (Madison City Council), Betsey Vonderheide (City of Madison), Linda Darnell (Madison-Jefferson County Industrial Development Corp), Bev Ford (Madison Area Chamber of Commerce), Lucy Dattilo (At-Large), Joe Carr (At-Large). A ninth board seat has not been filled this year by the Jefferson County Council since Dan Carter stepped down in mid-year.
With the requirement now of having at least five members present to constitute a quorum, the board constantly wrestles with attendance. There were nine regularly scheduled monthly meetings through November, with no meeting in January or September.
Through August, before he was asked not to attend, Wolfschlag had perfect attendance, along with Dwyer. Dattilo attended all but one meeting. Vonderheide attended seven of nine monthly meetings, and Stephens attended six. Darnell attended only three meetings this year, and Ford only one.
The board’s bylaws state that “failure to attend three consecutive, regularly scheduled meetings by any member without good reason shall constitute that member’s automatic removal from the board and the rule of interim vacancy shall apply.” Ford and Darnell qualify for removal but so far continue to serve.
Lytle said she would contact the sponsoring organizations to have new appointees as soon as possible. She said that excessive absenteeism among board members who are charged with managing nearly a quarter million-dollar budget “is a disservice to the community.”

In other tourism news:

n Organizers of the Ohio River Valley Folk Festival are hoping to bring the festival back next spring but have wrestled with gaining sponsors for 2007. Last spring, the JCBT granted $10,000 to help stage the inaugural festival. The event then failed to generate enough revenue to cover its operating costs, so the JCBT provided another $4,000 to cover the debt.
The JCBT already has pledged $5,000 for the festival in 2007. The festival committee, meanwhile, is scrambling to find a title sponsor willing to contribute $7,000. Some secondary sponsors have been secured at the level of $2,000 and $3,000, Lytle said. She is working on one last possible title sponsor, but if that company does not take it, co-chairman John Walburn told Lytle in late November that his company, Rescare, would sponsor it. Without a title sponsor, the CVB board had planned to call a special meeting to vote on whether to continue the event next year.
“We have said all along that without sponsors, you cannot stage these events, and the committee knows that,” Lytle said. “But time is running out.”
Walburn, who co-chairs the event with Steve Thomas, vowed that the festival would go on, “even if we have to do it ourselves.” He said last year’s festival was successful for a first-time event, and that it just needs more marketing behind it to educate the public on what a folk festival is. “I think the people who did come were pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was. We just need to give it a chance.”
• Madison Chautauqua festival coordinator Georgie Kelly recently reported to the board that this year’s event in September was deemed a success despite heavy rain and wind on Friday night and Saturday. The inclement weather forced some exhibitors to shut down or leave town before the festival even opened, but many stayed open and had strong sales, she said. Sunday brought beautiful weather and large crowds. More than half the exhibitors already have signed up to return next year. No financial information was yet available.
• Madison Ribberfest coordinator Kathy Ayers reported that the two-day festival in August attracted 54 pro division competitors in the Kansas City Barbeque Society event and a record crowd of visitors through the gates to enjoy the Blues Bash. The Ribberfest sold about 200 more admission wristbands this year than in 2005 and generated a net profit of about $6,800, while operating on a budget of nearly $204,000.
At the November board meeting, Ayers reported that the committee already is lining up bands and sponsors for 2007. Many of the major sponsors have already committed to return next year, she said. The committee plans to launch a campaign soon for submissions by area artists and graphic designers for new artwork to be used in marketing next year’s festival. The winning artist will be paid but the artwork will be owned by the committee.
The CVB board’s executive committee met Oct. 17 and voted to pay Ayers a $3,000 bonus for coordinating Ribberfest, making her total compensation $12,000. The board later realized it had no quorum at the executive session in which that vote was taken and now must meet at a later date to re-vote on the issue.

• The Madison CVB board meets at 5:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month. The JCBT meets afterward. The public is welcome.

Back to December 2006 Articles.

 

 

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