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March 9, 2014

Council, chamber at odds again over tourism funding

GREENVILLE — Some members of the Greenville City Council are prepared to take action this week to strip tourism funding from the Greenville Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau.

President/CEO Brendon J. Payne said he was unaware of the plan by the council’s economic development sub-committee to move the funding in-house.

“We’re surprised that this action is being taken,” Payne said when informed Friday afternoon of the vote scheduled during Tuesday’s regular council session, starting at 6 p.m. in the Municipal Building, 2821 Washington Street. A work session is also set for 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The two sides reached a compromise on the issue in January, when representatives from the Chamber and from the sub-committee met concerning the reporting the Chamber had provided as to how it spends the funding and why it was receiving so much each year.

Following the meeting, an agreement was reached whereby the tourism funding for the first two quarters of the current fiscal year would be distributed, while a distinction would also be made making sure the funding will be provided to the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), rather than the Chamber of Commerce.

The sub-committee, which also oversees tourism funding, is now recommending that the City of Greenville, instead of the CVB, promote tourism and the convention and hotel industry in-house for the third and fourth quarters of the fiscal year with funding from municipal hotel occupancy tax.

Payne said Friday he was unsure how the Chamber would respond, although he and Mayor Steve Reid will meet on the issue Monday morning.

“We’re going to discuss a little bit about where we go from here,” Payne said.

In November, the sub-committee proposed slashing the funding the Chamber was to receive this year in order to promote local tourism.

During the December council meeting, Reid said he was not satisfied with the reporting the Chamber had provided, showing how it has spent its portion of hotel/motel taxes in the past. Reid also questioned why the Chamber is receiving so much each year.

The Chamber had requested $134,834 in tourism funding this year, although the Tourism and Convention Advisory Board had recommended the Chamber receive $123,500, which is in line with the $125,000 the agency received in last year’s budget.

However, the sub-committee, which includes Reid, Velma Del Bosque-Hobdy and Renee Francey, had recommended the Chamber’s appropriation be reduced by $48,500 this year.

Under the agreement reached in January, the Convention and Visitors Bureau was to receive two payments of $30,875, after which the council and the agency were to look at the issue again.

Payne said no meetings had occurred or had been scheduled with the sub-committee since that time.

“We’ve had no discussion with staff or the council members,” Payne said, adding the Chamber’s position has not changed.

“We feel like the Chamber is the best equipped organization to advertise the events and to promote tourism in Greenville,” Payne said. “We report every single quarter about what our functions are.”

The Tourism and Convention Advisory Board heard requests October 15 from more than a dozen organizations, each seeking a portion of the hotel/motel taxes the city collects.

The city collected just under $391,000 in taxes during the past year, had budgeted $270,000 in tourism funds in this year’s budget, and the board recommended $250,000 in appropriations be awarded.

The City of Greenville charges a tax of 7 percent on each night’s stay in a local hotel or motel room and then divides the money among the various groups which have applied for the funds. The events they sponsor must enhance and promote tourism and/or the convention and hotel industry in Greenville.

The applications are reviewed by the Tourism and Convention Advisory Board, then the board’s recommendations are presented to the council, which has the final say as to what is eventually included in the annual city budget.

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