Sometimes it seems bureaucrats lose touch with reality. There can be no better example than in the negotiations over tourism spending for Columbia County.
Just look at this exchange: Columbia County currently sends about $130,000 a year to the Augusta Metro Convention and Visitor's Bureau. County officials recently opened negotiations with the CVB, telling the Augusta agency the money would be better spent in-house to develop events and attractions here.
The CVB's response? If you want extra money, raise your taxes -- but don't cut our funding.
We've been supportive of keeping a link with the CVB. The agency has broad contacts in the tourism industry, mostly with the considerable leverage handed to it by the Masters Golf Tournament. It certainly is worth something for Columbia County to be part of any regional marketing efforts.
But come on, CVB; don't get greedy. Currently, the CVB gets an agreed-upon 40 percent of the county's hotel-motel tax revenue from the county each year, and that money is growing anywhere from 12 to 18 percent annually as new lodging facilities open up in the Belair Road-Interstate 20 corridor and beyond.
County commissioners have asked Community and Leisure Services Division Director Barry Smith to recommend how best to use the burgeoning source of revenue. All he's gotten so far from the CVB is a stubborn defense of the status quo, even though county officials obviously don't believe they're getting their money's worth.
Sure, raising the county's hotel-motel tax rate by 1 percent, to the same 6 percent level as Augusta's, wouldn't scare off any tourists; it wouldn't cost locals any money; and it would generate an estimated $65,000 or more each year. But just because more money comes in, that doesn't get the CVB off the hook -- or keep it on the dole.
The county can't just spend the hotel-motel tax anywhere it wants to; by law, 40 percent of the money has to be spent on a non-profit agency's efforts to promote tourism. But the law doesn't require that the money be spent specifically with the CVB, and commissioners are leaning toward using the hotel-motel tax funds to create a more-responsive tourism position within the county's Chamber of Commerce.
The likely outcome of this discussion is not just a tax hike, but a gradual cutback of CVB funding to a minimal level. CVB officials need to snap out of denial long enough to figure out that their best defense is to demonstrate the long-term value of their relationship with Columbia County, and make a case for letting the annual growth in revenues from the hotel-motel tax compensate for any cuts.
Otherwise, they're going to get a hard dose of reality if Columbia County yanks the funding altogether and quickly proves the CVB needs them more than the other way around.
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