Purdy’s plan pushes tourism groups to the table

Gwen Chamberlain

The proposed Yates County 2010 budget is the second county spending plan that includes revenue from occupancy tax collections and spending for tourism promotion using the $285,000 the tax brings in.

The occupancy tax revenue is really a small portion of the overall spending plan, but its handling has generated sometimes sensitive discussions about the best way to promote tourism business in the county.

In the proposed budget, County Administrator Sarah Purdy is recommending that the Yates County Chamber of Commerce’s allocation include $5,000 to pass through to a new tourism promotion group. The Finger Lakes Visitors Association (FLVA), has its eye set on becoming the county’s Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA) and on a $150,000 piece of the occupancy tax revenue.

But the Chamber of Commerce has been the TPA for several years, and some of the businesses in the FLVA are former Chamber members who left the Chamber over disagreements about the occupancy tax law.

Tourism promotion efforts of the Chamber of Commerce, Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance (formerly Finger Lakes Association) and Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing are all supported by revenue from the occupancy tax. The budget anticipates $285,000 in revenue from the tax. Half of it ($142,500) is divided between the tourism promotion organizations. The balance is added to the county’s general fund.

In September, David Wegman, FLVA president, and Carl Schwartz, one of the directors, made a presentation to the legislature and requested $150,000 in funding in addition to being named the county’s official TPA.

“When the FLVA made a presentation at the September Legislature meeting, association members stated that the FLVA does not want to duplicate Chamber activities and will work cooperatively with the Chamber. The pass-through method of funding ensures this,” wrote Purdy.

Reacting to the proposed budget Monday night, Wegman said via email, “Of course we are disappointed that the county does not see the FLVA’s request  as a  investment vs. an expense. The FLVA is simply a group of businesses that are trying to improve our business and grow the economy of Yates County. We need to invest in order to keep our employees employed  full time and grow tourism in Yates County. We need to expand our customer base and our top line in order to remain competitive in the Finger Lakes region. Other competitive counties invest much more than Yates County does and therefore they are out-performing us and their economies are growing at a greater rate than Yates. If a community does not grow, it will suffer and visitors will choose other areas to spend their time. We have the most beautiful area in the Finger Lakes and we need to raise the bar on the investment we make, both  from business and the county. Tourism is a very critical part of our employment opportunities.”

Susan Baron, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said she is happy with the allocation of $84,000, an increase over this year’s allocation of $57,238. “This is very generous and it will indeed enable us to maximize the I Love NY funds, which is critically important,” she says.

Baron says while the allocation stipulation might be unusual, she thinks the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and staff are looking forward in a positive way to getting to work on projects to promote Yates County tourism businesses, and they welcome others to the table to work together.

Wegman says FLVA will have representation in the room when the legislators are reviewing the budget proposal next Monday.

He said if the legislature adopts the budget with this funding recommendation intact, he expects the FLVA and Chamber of Commerce can work together. “We work fine with the Chamber, but status quo is not good enough,” he explained, adding, “We all need to make a larger investment in tourism.”