Visitors Bureau needs $32,000 or may close doors


By: Pat Hunter


Business leaders came to plead their case for additional funding for the Loudon County Visitors Bureau. If Loudon County doesnít come up with the additional $32,000, the Visitors Bureau may close their doors was the sales pitch made by some business people.


Business people came out in force to express their concerns about funding for the Loudon County Visitors Bureau. First to speak was a spokesperson from the Holiday Inn Express Lenoir City. The sales manager read a statement in support of the Visitors Bureau. Mary Bryant (executive director) and the work of the Visitors Bureau help to counter act some of the fallout of the tax. She was referring to the hotel motel tax, which was passed by Lenoir City Council in June 2007. Lenoir City hotels pay 9 percent state tax, 5 percent county tax and 5 percent Lenoir City bringing it up to 19 percent, which is the 2nd highest hotel motel tax statewide. The Chamber of Commerce scoffed at Lenoir City Council when they voted to increase the hotel motel tax and that has been a sore point with some on Council. Click Lenoir City Official's Vent at Chamber And Tourist Bureau's Funding Request!


We daily have to deal with the rates of the occupancy tax and we feel that we deserve more input on how those dollars are spent said the spokesperson. The Visitors Bureau affects economics. She also shared some stats on hotel motel use, Knoxville has been down by 12.5 percent and Loudon County has been down 8 percent. She felt that a cut in funds to the Visitors Bureau would hurt the local economy and add to job loss.


The general manager of the Watts Bar Belle excursion paddle wheeler also addressed commissioners. The Watts Bar Belle was located at Watts Bar Lake in Kingston but due to the coal fly ash river spill, owners made the decision to move the boat to Loudon County.  She felt that Lenoir City was a better setting and had much to offer. Mary and her crew have done a phenomenal job, she said. If we lose the Visitors Bureau it would have a far reaching affect on businesses and schools.


The Visitors Bureau was described as a vast resource. It would be a terrible waste not to fund it said another supporter. Jeweler Rick Terry also spoke; this is not a bathroom stop. It has real teeth, marketing and strategy. At one time, it was funded 50 percent but this has dwindled.


Last to speak was realtor Doug Davis, Chairman of the Visitors Bureau. On Oct. 12, Loudon County Commission voted to cut funding from 36 to 29 percent; 3rd year consecutive cut. We will lose the Visitors Bureau building, which will go back to the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce who actually owns the building. We will not be able to rent. The Visitors Bureau also stands to lose the interstate signage and bill board at I-75 and I-40.  We donít know if Blount County will be able to pick that up. We will lose our website. The Visitors Bureau sent out 120,000 requested documents. He referred to the Super bowl of fishing tournaments and other events that the Visitors Bureau is vying for or may lose.


Whatís the difference in the money Commissioner Nancy Marcus asked; Davis replied $32,000. If you donít get that $32,000, thereís not one part that you can cut out maybe the advertising or pamphlets Marcus asked Davis. Marcus couldnít understand why they would have to close the whole thing. We can not market Loudon County commented Davis.


How many people are there; six part-time people including Mary and un-paid volunteers?


At one time, the Visitors Bureau looked like it was closed up and grown up in weeds. Commission Chair Roy Bledsoe reminded Davis how Loudon County gave extra money to the Visitors Bureau and they spent the money on weeds. Davis mentioned how the Visitors Bureau was trying to improve their image.


Commissioner Don Miller, budget committee member added to the discussion. Last year the County budgeted $135,000 and Lenoir City gave zero, but this year the County put $102,000 and Lenoir City put $25,000. Thatís $127,000 verses $135,000. The difference between the two numbers, do you have to shut down, he asked. Davis said that money was coming from their reserves, replied Davis. Mary Bryant read from a Feb. 27, 2008 letter; with the cap in place funding level is approximately 36 percent and for the first time in history will not cover the annual expenses.


Someone is reaping the harvest, added Mayor Arp. Loudon Countyís sales tax is steady because people are trading in the county. Most of the sales tax is being generated in Lenoir City. Some felt that Lenoir City should do more to help the Visitors Bureau because they benefit. The Visitors Bureau is located on Hwy 321. This issue will be on  Commission's November 2 agenda.