Logan County Tourism Bureau stuck in “Catch 22”
Asks city of Lincoln for annual funding decision

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[December 19, 2016]  LINCOLN - At the Lincoln City Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting last week Shawn Taylor and Emily Davenport spoke to the council about the Logan County Tourism Bureau. Taylor, the owner of Logan Lanes in Lincoln, has been on the Logan County Tourism Board since 2015. Davenport, a member of the Logan County Board, was assigned to serve on the tourism board earlier this year.

Taylor was first to speak. He told the council that the Tourism Bureau is stuck in a “Catch 22” situation, and he and Davenport had come to the council to ask for their help.

Taylor recapped that the bureau is currently without a director since the resignation of Maggie (McMurtrey) Sinclair. An interim director has been appointed, but no real search has begun for a new permanent director. The bureau needs to move forward with hiring someone quickly, but it doesn’t feel that it can attract quality candidates when there is no funding agreement for the 2017 fiscal year.

Taylor also explained that at the end of January, the grant application is due for the state tourism funding the bureau receives each year. That application needs to have the name of the permanent director included. Taylor said the Catch 22 was that they needed to hire a director to get state funding, but they couldn’t hire a director without the city’s commitment.

Taylor also reported that the tourism board is down to five members from eight. Sal Pollice who was assigned as part of the Logan County Alliance program has resigned after the dissolution of the LCA. Just days prior to Taylor and Davenport appearing before the council, Renee Martin and Paresh Patel also resigned.

In addition, there have been some complications with the management of the Tourism Bureau in the wake of decisions made by the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce. The move by the chamber out of the building on Fifth Street, where it shared space with the tourism bureau, left the bureau contemplating whether or not it could afford to stay or would it also have to move?

Taylor said that what the bureau needed from the city was a decision; would the city be supporting the tourism bureau financially in 2017.

Michelle Bauer said she thought that the council had given the bureau direction a few weeks ago when Gail Sasse and Martin had come to the council. There had been a consensus that the council would sign on for another year, and the bureau had been told to draft an agreement to that effect.

City Administrator Clay Johnson said that the interim director of the bureau had contacted him for some clarification of the current funding agreement.

Tracy Welch said he had a few concerns about the current status of the tourism board. He said he wondered if the board had a quorum with so many positions now vacant. Davenport said that it did because the current rules for the board call for a seven-member council, so five would still be a majority. She added that the board is looking to add new members, including a second appointee from the city as well as the county.

Mayor Marty Neitzel asked why this was the first she heard of this. She said she was more than willing to appoint a second city representative, but had not been asked to do so. Davenport said the reason no formal request had come about was because that requirement is to be written into the tourism by-laws, which are not yet completed.

Welch went on to say another concern right now was that in the membership of the current tourism board, he is not confident there are strong leaders with tourism experience. Welch said that put him in a position where he would say the city should “take a pause.” He noted that the bureau has reserve funds in its coffers, enough to operate for a while. He suggested the tourism board get some of the work done that it needs to do before the city offers that final commitment.

Bauer countered saying that she had heard and understood what Taylor was saying, it is going to be difficult to hire a quality person when there is no guarantee of funding from the city. Welch concurred that was a good point.

Neitzel also noted that the bureau is now looking at a very tight deadline for hiring someone because of the state grant application due the end of January.

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Taylor said it was, but if the city makes a commitment, the bureau will dive into searching for a director and will get it done by the deadline. He told the council that his experience on the tourism bureau had taught him some good lessons. He explained that as a businessman in Lincoln if he loses an employee, that lost person can easily be replaced in most cases. But here, with the tourism bureau, there is a need for a well-qualified person who can lead the bureau and work for the good of the city and the county. He added that the board could more than likely hire a person in the next few days, but he didn’t feel it would be right to make a decision without doing a thorough search.

Referring to Welch’s comments about some of the unfinished business with the bureau, Taylor said that the bureau has once again found itself in “another big mess,” but board members are not sitting on their hands, they are making every effort to work through the problems once again.

The members of the council by the nod of the head seemed to agree that the bureau is in a precarious situation right now and that the city is going to be taking a risk if it goes forward with funding the bureau. The suggestion was made by Johnson that the city add an addition contingency to the funding agreement that would give it an out if the bureau can’t get back up to speed. He said the city could add a 30-day escape clause for the city and the bureau. The agreement would be made for a 12 month period, but with the escape clause, at any time the city was not satisfied with the work of the bureau it could give a 30-day notice that funding would be suspended. Likewise, the tourism bureau could also choose not to accept funding from the city with the same 30-day notice.

Davenport said that what the tourism bureau needs is a long-term commitment from the city. She said even the state is getting tired of the situation in Lincoln, because, with each new director it has to provide training and orientation.

Bauer commented that the state grant is not a major portion of the funding for the bureau. In all, the state provides $30,000 while the city is providing roughly $175,000 to 200,000. Steve Parrott, who serves as the city appointee on the tourism board said that was true, but the real significance of the state grant was that it brought with it the official designation that the Logan County Tourism Bureau is a state tourism bureau. He said that was more important than the money.

In the end, the council agreed that it could vote on a one-year funding agreement with the 30-day escape clause added.

The city of Lincoln currently collects the hotel-motel tax for all such businesses within its city limits. The dollars collected are then distributed to tourism functions with the primary bulk of the funds going to the state santioned Logan County Tourism Bureau. Last year, the council decided to keep 15 percent of the total collection for city backed tourism investments. A portion of that money was used last year for the Third Fridays Downtown Lincoln events. Money was also given to the Mill on Route 66 from those dollars, and there is currently a balance remaining.

Welch asked if under those circumstances, should the city consider adjusting the percentage split and give the Logan County Bureau 95 percent of the tax dollars collected. Parrott commented that with the bureau once again searching for a new director, the added dollars could be helpful there.

City Treasurer Chuck Conzo suggested that the city make no changes to the distribution at this time. He added that the budget building process for the 2017-18 fiscal year is nearing, and the city could revisit that amount then. All present appeared to be in agreement.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the council asked that an item be placed on this week’s voting agenda. The action item will be to vote to accept or reject funding of the Logan County Tourism Bureau for the calendar year January 1 through December 31, 2017, the fiscal year for the Logan County Tourism Bureau.

[Nila Smith]

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