Lincoln prepares to renew funding agreement with Logan County Tourism Bureau

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[November 18, 2016]  LINCOLN - At the Tuesday evening committee of the whole workshop session, Lincoln aldermen indicated that they were in favor of renewing the funding agreement between the city and the Logan County Tourism Bureau for at least one more year.

During the discussion on the topic, the city did offer some changes to the current agreement document that they would like to have. At the end of the discussion, the aldermen agreed to hold off on any action item to give a special working group for the project an opportunity to re-write the agreement with the requested changes.

The Logan County Tourism Bureau has a funding agreement with the city of Lincoln which provides that the bureau will receive 85 percent of the total revenue collected from the Lincoln Hotel/Motel Tax. That agreement, which had been established as temporary funding is set to expire at the end of the year.

On Tuesday evening, City Administrator Clay Johnson introduced the topic of renewing the agreement. He said that there had been a special working group formed consisting of city and county representation, as well as representatives from the Tourism Board, to address some of the concerns about the bureau, and work through a new contract with the city.

Johnson said one of the issues before the Tourism Bureau currently is that they are once again without a full-time director. They need to be completing their State Grant application, and hiring a director must be done sooner rather than later.

As directed earlier in the year, Johnson has been looking into the feasibility of the city taking over full ownership of the bureau, making it a city entity, under the full governance of the city.

Questions had arisen about whether or not Tourism could keep its “bureau” status if it were a city entity. Johnson said that it could. The requirement would be, as it is now, for the Logan County Board to sign-off for the grant application that the bureau serves the entire county, not just the city of Lincoln. Johnson said that he didn’t think that should be a problem, because it would be the intent of the city to maintain the bureau for the good of the entire county.

Johnson said there were pros and cons to taking the bureau into the city governance. He said in favor of taking the bureau, the tourism staff would be included in the city’s employee benefit offerings, and in general, the operating costs of the bureau might be reduced.

One of the largest concern for taking over the bureau would be public perception. It was explained that there would be those who might react negatively to the city having governance over a county-wide program.

As they discussed the renewal, Tracy Welch noted that there are some things that the bureau needs to do, such as complete the draft of the by-laws. He said in those by-laws, he felt it should be stated that the city would have the final approval of board member candidates. Steve Parrott who serves on the Bureau Board as a city representative said he felt that the county should also be included in that process. He said that the county is becoming more involved again, and he wanted to see them stay involved.

It was also mentioned that though currently not required, the bureau does hold open meetings. While it is working well to be doing this voluntarily, it was suggested that holding open meetings be a requirement, written into the contract.

Rick Hoefle spoke up saying that he would say that in this year, he has “mellowed” in his position regarding the Tourism Bureau, but he still has some issues. Some of the things that the city has asked for have not been fully accomplished. He also wants the bureau to concentrate more on the Route 66 aspect of tourism in Logan County.

It was discussed that once again this year, the bureau has been thrown into flux, with things going on around them that have not been in their control.

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When the Logan County Alliance formed, the Tourism Bureau was included under the umbrella of that organization. They shared space and staff costs with the Lincoln/Logan County Chamber of Commerce. Now, the LCA has dissolved, the Chamber and Tourism are now separate again, and the chamber is moving out of the Fifth Street location.

Additionally, Maggie McMurtrey Sinclair resigned in the fall to take a position with Lincoln College, so the bureau is back to a part-time temporary director as they prepare to search for a new person.

Talking about the director position, Jeff Hoinacki noted that there had been a regular turnover of tourism directors over the last three to four years. He wondered, if, for that reason the city should get involved more fully, so that a better employment package could be offered to a director, with the hopes of retention.

While Welch didn’t disagree with the thought, he said that he believed one of the biggest issues for any director is the instability of the future of the bureau. He suggested that the city stop the six-month temporary renewals, and move to a full year agreement for 2017. He added that he would support making the agreement an automatic annual renewal with a provision added that would allow for a review if warranted necessary.

The discussion also moved to the current website issues, and David Doolin was mentioned as someone who could be helpful in fixing the issues. Parrott said that Doolin has already spent time with the Tourism Board, and is looking at how to make the website more user-friendly and with better content.

Parrott went on to say that as a sitting member of the board, he felt that the people who are now serving are genuinely dedicated to tourism, and are prepared to work toward making the bureau better.

Michelle Bauer noted that she was in favor of the county being involved in the Tourism Bureau, but she thought there needed to be an additional conversation about the county’s financial involvement. She said maybe that was a conversation for another time, and Johnson said he thought perhaps it was, as the current conversation was about the contract between the city and tourism.

As the discussion began to wind down, Johnson said he felt the council might not be ready to put anything up for a vote. He suggested that the working group be permitted time to review the requests of the council and incorporate those into the contract between the city and tourism. Once that is done, the aldermen will have the opportunity to review the revised document before it is put to the vote.

The council agreed that would be the best plan.

The current funding agreement is set to expire the end of the year. It is expected that a new contract will be up for approval before the old one expires.

[Nila Smith]


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