THE HUNTER REPORT
Tourist Bureau Funding
Video Lenoir City Official's vent at Chamber
And Tourist Bureau's Funding Request!
By: Pat Hunter
With the high cost of fuel, people are shopping and vacationing nearby. Lenoir City is known as the Lake-way to the Great Smoky Mountains because of its scenic area and its numerous lakes and streams. Tourism brings in big dollars to coffers. Some Lenoir City's officials appear to be carrying a grudge about past Chamber of Commerce actions.
Mary Bryant and Kristi Clenney with the Loudon County Visitors accompanied by Theresa Ward-Keenan and Jan Sica with the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce, attended the April 28th Lenoir City Council meeting. Ms. Clenney spoke on behalf of the Loudon County Visitors Bureau. Clenney presented information about the activities, attractions, events, tourism stats, website update, shopping and dining guides, weekend trip brochures and print advertisements. The Bureau will send out 65,000 brochures to promote tourism in the cities and county. As Ms. Clenney was about to finish her presentation, she requested 50 percent budget funding from Lenoir City's new Hotel-Motel Occupancy tax.
Mayor Brookshire thanked them and he mentioned the upcoming budget process but made no firm commitment. The ladies thanked city officials and then left the meeting. Little did they know that Lenoir City officials would revisit the Visitor's Bureau budget request, once again at the end of the Council meeting.
After a lengthy Executive Session taken for unknown reasons, Council members, Mayor Matt Brookshire and City Attorney Shannon Littleton returned to their seats. Council reconvened and by then the Community Channel TV-3 had packed up their gear and went home. Although the News Herald is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the newspaper has been silent on the comments that followed.
Lenoir City has collected about $193,047 from the new city Hotel-Motel Occupancy tax during the period of September 2007 through the end of April 2008. There are eight (8) hotel motels located in Lenoir City.
Councilman Eddie Simpson started the ball rolling when he revisited the subject of the Hotel-Motel tax. It appears, that the Visitors Bureau's request for funding hit a sore spot with Councilman Simpson and others, and they were about to vent!
Back in June 2007, numerous articles appeared in the local newspaper critical of Lenoir City's action to impose a high Hotel-Motel tax. Council passed an Ordinance to implement a five percent Hotel-Motel Occupancy tax within the city limits. An overnight stay at a Lenoir City hotel-motel, would now include a whopping 19% city, county and other sales tax.
Councilman Simpson reminded other officials how the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce had opposed the Hotel-Motel tax; nevertheless, they were now asking for a 50% cut of Lenoir City's revenues. Simpson suggested that the City take the Hotel-Motel revenue and designate it to a Capital Projects Fund or something. He wanted to see the money go for a purpose and he wanted to see that purpose full-filled. Video Councilman Eddie Simpson
Mayor Brookshire said that he appreciated the work of the Visitor's Bureau but that Lenoir City was seeing some benefits. Brookshire felt that the City was doing their part and fair share. The City was very supportive and assisted the Visitor's Bureau with their overall mission. Rarely does the City turn down the Visitor's Bureau or the Chamber when they request assistance. Mayor Brookshire agreed with Simpson that the Chamber was against the Hotel Motel tax. Brookshire commented how the Visitor's Bureau "would have" had the Chamber not done it first. The Visitor's Bureau would have probably done so as well. Video Mayor Matt Brookshire
Councilman Bobby Johnson, Sr., asked Councilman Simpson, how come they (Chamber) were against it, Eddie? Simpson thought that they wanted to "control" the funding. Chamber thought that it would hurt business. We have proved them wrong, Simpson added, but that's not happening. Bobby Johnson, Sr., chuckled and commented, evidently, if they are coming around asking for it!
(Note: Loudon County government provides sole financial support to the Visitors Bureau for the last 14-years. Presently, the funding cap is set at $135,000; 50 percent cut of the County Hotel-Motel tax. At a recent commission workshop meeting, the Tourism Bureau requested 50 percent of the County Hotel-Motel tax and for the County to remove the $135,000 cap. Commission will take this matter up when they meet to vote on the county budget and the proposed property tax hike.
Since tourism benefits Lenoir City and the County, the Loudon County Budget Committee thought that it was time for the Visitors Bureau to request funding from Lenoir City. The Tourist Bureau is located in Lenoir City on Highway 321. Both government funding bodies agree that tourism benefits Lenoir City and Loudon County economies but funding and supporting the tourism agency is a horse of another color.