Council needs to take control of conversation on City’s CVB Funding

For the past several months, the issues surrounding the funding of the Clinton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has gotten to a point of embarrassment for the both the City and the CVB. This week, Judiciary Committee and full Council will both discuss changes to the legislation on the funding to the CVB , which is mandated by the state to be 50% of the lodging tax collected by the City.

The City’s Proposal

The City has decided to legislate that the CVB will get the state-mandated 50% of the lodging tax revenue, with 49% going to tourism more generally (and 1% going to administration). The CVB could apply for that money, along with other local organizations. Some that have been brought up as examples are the City Parks and Recreation department and Main Street Wilmington, with whom the CVB has had some collaboration in the past.

The CVB Response

The CVB has pulled out all of the stops trying to stop this change from being put into the legislation. Their concern is their loss of around $50,000 worth of income, out of an approximately $300,000 budget (this assumes that the city would not allocate any of the aforementioned 49% to the organization). The CVB and its representative on Council, Joe Spicer, have continued to put up nearly conspiratorial arguments about why the city shouldn’t take away their funding. Bob Heyob, the organization’s treasurer, went so far as to say the city would lose $2 million in tourism with the cuts. That number is ridiculous, and when questioned on it at a Judiciary Committee meeting, it was ignored. Spicer has said that the other money would go to “pet projects.” Debbie Stamper, the Executive Director of the CVB, has written letters to the Wilmington News Journal touting dubious economic impact numbers and saying that other organizations, specifically the Parks department, does not have any oversight of their budget. She also claimed that the money from the lodging tax was not public money, which drew a rebuke from several members of city government.

Where the City went wrong

From the beginning, the City lost the message of the issue, making it about moving money for tourism from the CVB to other organizations. As Wilmington faces a potential financial crisis, why have we decided to not use the rest of that money for the general fund? Instead, Council focused the discussion on using it for Parks and Recreation, as long as that money was used to draw tournaments to the City. Instead of having a conversation about the best use for that money, Council immediately capitulated to the belief that all of the money must go to tourism.

I have had conversations with several members of Council about waste in the CVB. Many have received or seen the organization’s Christmas cards, which are pointless and wasteful. Also, the organization spends over $25,000 in rent and utilities for a building in which two people work. In addition, they are spending $10,000 for their website, which is far more expensive than any of the local non-profit organizations with which I am familiar. Yet the organization is balking at transparency to Council-the organization elected by the citizens of Wilmington to protect public funds.

Council has its last shot this week. Either bow to pressure from the CVB to not cut their funding, or stand up for the General Fund and acknowledge the extreme financial pressure we are under. The City has been talking about this issue for a long time, and it is time to act. If Council decides that the CVB is deserving of the money when the City’s budget comes up, that is fine. The City should not force themselves into limited language on how that money is spent.

 

0.5% Municipal Income Tax Increase Goes to Voters

Last Thursday, July 7th, City Council voted unanimously to place a 0.5% municipal income tax increase on the ballot in November (Councilperson Joe Spicer was absent, but had previously voiced support for allowing the voters to decide). As per Ohio law, if a City wants to increase its municipal income tax beyond 1% (where Wilmington currently stands), it must go to the voters.

This has been several months, if not years, in the making. A Blue Ribbon Committee that consisted of local residents and politicians supported a municipal income tax increase after digging into the City’s budget, but at that time, the City had enough in reserves to push the matter into the future.

With the City’s budget at a breaking point, Council was finally forced to act this year. The City cut in certain places, but realistically, there is no way to cover a $1.5 million deficit. The City has lost so much money over the last decade, from the massive job loss at the airpark to the cuts to funds given to local governments by Governor Kasich and company from the state.

I have already voiced my support for this tax increase, and I have volunteered to help get it passed. I hope that this is the beginning of a dialogue about how the City spends its money and invests in infrastructure. We have streets that need to be paved and fire and police departments that need to be funded. The citizens of Wilmington should vote for this tax and continue to make sure their elected officials follow through with their promises on how they will spend additional funds coming into the general fund.

We Have an Open Meetings Problem in Wilmington and Clinton County

Let’s say you are a person who is interested in an issue being presented at a Clinton County Commissioner’s meeting, and you want to attend. You do your homework, prepare your statement, get some supporters to join you. Only one problem-you can’t because you have a job. As you may know, our Clinton County Commissioners meet at 8 am on Mondays and Wednesdays. This is a time that allows retirees and the lucky few who can get off work to be a commissioner or participate in meetings, but prohibits those of us who work full-time to attend meetings.

City government is not immune to this issue. I challenge you to find the regular meeting times for the commissions that are administered by the City on the city’s website. Personally, I have ties to multiple commissions/boards, and I struggle to understand or know when these meetings are.

Several local public bodies do a much better job of getting the word out for their meetings. City Council has their meeting times readily available online for both council committees and council at large. They even post the agendas for full council meetings online the day before (and have an email list you can join for the agendas). Council meeting times give more of an opportunity for people who do work to attend. The Clinton County Regional Planning Commission has their next meeting front and center on their website, showing that there are easy ways to do it.

So why do we have so many government organizations that have the issue of inconvenient meeting times or non-posted meeting times? The former is the biggest concern. It raises questions about who these boards serve, especially for the Commissioners. These meetings should be for the benefit of the public, as we are the people who are affected by their decisions. The meeting times also prevents many working people from not only attending meetings, but potentially being a county commissioner.

It is time for us, as a community, to move forward from the days where everyone who lived here, worked here, and people were more available for public meetings during the day. We must demand that our local governmental organizations abide by the spirit of the Open Meetings Laws and accommodate the vast majority of people who are unable to attend meetings during the day. Our elected and appointed officials need to know that these meetings should be held at the public’s convenience, not their own. Wilmington will likely be putting an income tax increase on the November ballot, and citizens should know that their city is actively working to make citizens be a part of the decision making process. Hopefully, the County Commissioners will consider holding their meetings at a time that will actually allow ordinary, working citizens to attend and have their voices heard. The government must work for the people-not the other way around.