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Is there a better way?

Tourism boards hold rare meeting
to explore merging into one entity

‘The current system is working;
it’s improved. But can it be better?’
– Corey Murphy, CVB board member

 

 
(July 2008)
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Don Ward

Tourism in Jefferson County has long been managed by by two separate boards – the Jefferson County Board of Tourism and the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. But at a rare meeting of members of both boards held June 18, a discussion took place to explore if two boards are actually necessary or in the best interest of efficient management.
CVB board president Lucy Dattilo and board member Corey Murphy pursued the questioning of this issue with three members of the JCBT – president Steve Thomas, Karen Hinton and A.J. Mistry – at the latter group’s monthly meeting. The four additional members of the JCBT were absent, thus there was no quorum. Joe Carr and Jim Crone also attended, representing the CVB board, as did tourism director Linda Lytle.
At issue was whether management of the fiscal operations of county tourism would be best served by combining the boards or if the present system is working. “There is no animosity or ill feelings between our boards; we just want to see if this is the best way,” Dattilo explained.
Lytle said that of the 55 CVBs across the state about half operate with one board, while the other half has two. CVBs have more flexibility in how they operate or where they spend their money, while the Board of Tourism is created and bound by statute in the Indiana Code 6-9-15-1. Essentially it is a tax commission created simply to collect and distribute county innkeepers tax revenue. The CVB’s role, meanwhile, is to manage festivals and the overall operations of the tourism office and staff.
But in recent months, the CVB board has explored whether changes are needed to improve managing its money. Board members also wanted a more definite explanation of the roles of each board, Dattilo said. One result was that the board for the first time created a budget committee, which prepared the 2008 budget for approval by the JCBT. In past years, Lytle has prepared the budget, which was then approved by the CVB and in turn the JCBT.
The CVB also meets once a year to review and adjust its Strategic Plan, which includes goals, assignments and targeted completion dates. The JCBT has no such plan or need for one, but rather prepares a budget for where the annual revenues are spent, said Thomas. In 2007, the JCBT managed a budget totalling $225,000, of which only $18,000 went to groups or projects outside the CVB, according to Hinton. Examples of non-CVB recipients of tax revenues include the local car club, the bicycle club or the Madison Regatta.
“Do we use funds for other reasons? Yes, but we don’t go out and put on the events ourselves. The organizations do. I want to make that distinction,” Thomas said.
Thomas said that in his 11 years of serving on one or both boards, he could not recall a instance when the CVB did not get what it needed to operate.
Both Thomas and Hinton seemed to oppose combining the two boards but said they would rather that all board members have a chance to discuss and respond before any final decision is made.
“All the time I’ve been here, what I’ve heard over and over is, we keep the vision and stay out of the mission. That’s the CVB’s job,” Hinton said.
At that point, Murphy questioned why the JCBT still manages the CVB’s marketing plan when it does not manage other aspects of tourism. He wondered if it would be more efficient to merge the boards to improve fiscal management. He also wondered about the current policy of the CVB spending “every dollar” of its budget each year without maintaining a reserve for the unexpected. “That’s not the way I run a railroad,” he said.
Lytle said that was normal, and that if it runs out of money, the JCBT must provide the reserve. “If we run short, they pay for it,” she said.
“(The current system) is working, it’s improved, but can it be better? That’s where I’m coming from,” Murphy said.
“Same here,” Dattilo intoned.
Hinton said that merging the two boards would involve the JCBT too closely in the day-to-day operations of tourism. “We would lose our vision of the whole picture if we get that involved.”
Carr noted that throughout 2006, Lytle struggled just to make payroll. “I don’t think the CVB director should be put in that position every week,” he said. “It was an ongoing problem.”
The CVB derives 90 percent of its annual budget from innkeepers tax revenue distributed to it from the JCBT. Two years ago, the JCBT increased by $10,000 the amount of money provided to the CVB. This year, the CVB’s budget totalled $330,000, but that included anticipated revenues from three festivals – Ohio River Valley Folk Festival, Madison Ribberfest and Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art – plus proceeds from the Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes and year-round gift shop sales.
In the end, the group agreed to discuss the matter further when more board members can take part. Hinton and Murphy agreed that both parties have the same goal in mind: improving tourism in Jefferson County.
Murphy concluded: “To me, it’s all about more effective management of the tourism budget.”

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.

 

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