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News Tourism authority debates funding requests

New fiscal guidelines for 2013-14 color decisions.

After a messy ending to the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the Tourism Development Authority (TDA) has begun the new year with a bit of caution. The board has put forth guidelines that involve a marketing plan; whittled their budget for grant requests by festivals with the expectation of eventual self-sufficiency; and developed a more critical approach towards the requests they do fund. At Monday night's meeting the board employed this new strategy as they revisited three requests that were left over from the spring and looked at other concerns regarding the marketing plan that will be implemented.

To begin, Town Attorney John Henning Jr. took a moment to reassure the board members that despite public concern of where TDA funds were going, they are on the right track legally at least.

“I think it's important to address some concerns that have been coming up about funding,” he said. “I've heard some people being critical of giving money to private firms, but I just want to remind everybody, that legally, you can give money to these businesses as long as they are acting in the public’s and the TDA's best interest.”

“Basically, if they are using the funds for marketing,” board member, Matt Bateman clarified.

Funding requests, 3-1

The first event that drew discussion was the sponsorship of the Appalachian Trail Biennial that takes place on the Western Carolina University Campus on July 21-25. The event involves live music, dancing, information about local hiking trails, and a Cherokee storyteller. In return for sponsorship funds, a bus would take attendees on a tour of Franklin.

“I went on their website and it seems to be mostly centered around the Sylva area and Cullowhee,” said TDA member Mike Gruberman. “There was nothing on the schedule when I looked two weeks ago about going to Franklin. I can't see funding it, if there's no return. They had indicated that there would be a trip, but usually at these events you have to sign up in advance and there are extra costs. I mean two weeks ago, there was not advertisement of this bus trip.”

After a short discussion, member Josh Drake motioned to oppose the funding with Gruberman seconding. The motion passed with only Bateman opposing.

Karen Flowers, organizer of the Ruby Bash Rally approached the board to request $7,300. This year will mark the fifth year of existence for the rally which has never received funding from the TDA. The rally is set to take place on Aug. 30-31.

“We have always had a good response for this event, pretty much filling the entire campground on Rosecreek,” she said. “We're making this request so we can continue to bring people into Franklin and hopefully continue to grow the rally.”

According to Flowers, last year's event drew 300-350 visitors to Franklin. A sizeable donation will be donated to the charity Cruisin' for Kids that will take place on Oct. 19. Last year, the donations went to the Toys for Tots program.

“The problem that I see is that you're requesting 7.5 percent of our entire budget for an event that brings 300 to 350 people to the area,” said Drake. “And they're staying at the campground outside of the city limits, not the hotels.”

Member Summer Woodard asked if they had considered other sources of funding.

“The rally is located outside of the city limits so this seems like a matter for the Tourism Development Commission [county entity],” she said. “Have you approached them?”

“We did seek funds from the county, but we were referred to you all,” said Flowers.

After further discussion, board member Vickie Springer suggested that she would be willing to give a portion of the requested amount.

Chairman Candy Arvey said that time was dwindling before the event takes place.

“I'm just not real sure how much advertising you can get done before Aug. 30,” said Arvey.

Woodard made a motion to deny the funding request.

“I just think this is a TDC issue,” she said.

The motion to deny passed, 6-1, with Springer opposed.

Ron Haven requested a total of $8,000. Haven runs a shuttle that transports hikers into Franklin from a variety of different trails located around the county.

“A rough estimate is that 50 percent of the hikers stay in my motel, but 50 percent do not,” he said in his request. “All of them patronize the restaurants, grocery stores, outfitters, places with entertainment, the post office, library, and shopping centers.”

In the past, the TDA has allotted funds to paint buses used to transport hikers in return for advertisement on the vehicles. Haven's expenses come from the bus and vans, including tags and insurance which total about $5,000 a year, gas at about $10,000 a year, and vehicle upkeep which amounts to about $1,000 each year. According to the request, he spent $16,000 last year offering these services.

Gruberman stated that because of rules that had been passed, they should consider denying the request.

“We passed rules to curb requests that seek to fund operating expenses,” he said.

“I just think there's too much grey area in this request,” Bateman agreed.

Drake made a motion to deny the request with Gruberman seconding. It passed unanimously.

The final request was a sponsorship opportunity for the Smoky Mountain Performing Arts Center.

“At the TDC meeting, an idea that came up was that both the TDC and the TDA fund $15,000 each for the theater,” said Woodard. “They also tossed around the idea of doing it by season. We could choose two and they could choose two. Like we could say we'll do spring and summer.”

The budget that was passed at last month's meeting gives $25,000 to festivals, which is down from $30,000 last year; $35,000 for digital billboards; $10,000 for Facebook, $15,000 for Google Adwords; and $15,000 to be put towards “other” means.

“My concern is that we have the ‘other’ expense category and that we would be wiping it out by putting it all towards one thing,” said Bateman.

The TDA operates from an occupancy tax that is generated throughout the year so if the board chose to fund the spring and summer months, they would have until then for the money to come in.

“We've had them waiting for four months, too,” said Arvey. “I think we should go ahead and tell them what we will do and see if the TDC wants to match it and if they won't, we can still fund it. We don't have to fund it right now, but we can help them some time during our fiscal year.”

Gruberman motioned to let the TDC know that they were considering funding $15,000 to the theater. At next month's meeting they will gauge the TDC's response to the proposal.

The TDA’s next meeting is Monday, Aug. 12, at Town Hall. Over the next week, the TDA is accepting bids for a website host. The lowest and most capable bidder will be chosen.


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