Columbia County panel considers restoring cut tourism funding
The Columbia County Board’s Finance Committee has left the door open for the county to kick in a few thousand dollars next year for tourism promotion.
But who will oversee that hypothetical allocation, and how, will have to be worked out, said Columbia County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage on Thursday.
When the committee decided to discontinue, at least for 2019, the county’s funding for the Columbia County Economic Development Corp., it zeroed out not only the $121,000 allocated for the entity’s operations, but also a separate amount — $10,000 this year — set aside in the economic development group’s tourism budget.
Supervisor Nancy Long of Lodi said it would be a shame if discontinuation of funding for economic development also included no money for tourism.
“I think tourism is a benefit for the entire county, to see people come to town,” Long told the committee Thursday. “It helps put Columbia County on the map.”
Gove said he wanted discussion about restoring tourism funding at Thursday’s committee meeting, rather than having the matter discussed Tuesday, when the County Board expects to adopt the proposed 2019 budget of nearly $80 million.
County Comptroller Lois Schepp said the County Board could adopt the 2019 budget as proposed on Tuesday, then the request for tourism money could come to the County Board as a resolution in December, with the money possibly coming from the county’s contingency fund.
Long said it hasn’t been decided exactly how much money will be requested, but it likely will be between $10,000 and $15,000. This year’s budget for the economic development organization included $10,000 for tourism, half of what was requested.
In addition to helping pay for publication of Columbia County tourism promotional materials, the tourism money also is used for expenditures such as a tourism awards banquet, said Cheryl Fahrner, executive director of the Columbia County Economic Development Corp.
The county’s tourism allocation also has been used to buy advertising space in the magazine “Our Wisconsin,” Fahrner said.
Also, Long said, economic development entity’s board is considering exploring high-tech tourism promotion tools, such as phone apps and an expanded internet presence.
But Gove said if Columbia County sets aside money for tourism, then the oversight of how that money is spent should come from a Columbia County department or body, not from the Columbia County Economic Development Corp.
The issue of who will decide how the money will be spent is even more vital than how much money the county allocates for tourism, said finance committee chairman Dan Drew of the town of Pacific.
“This is about more than just funding,” he said.
Supervisor Matt Rohrbeck of Portage said there needs to be a determination as to what constitutes a tourism-related expense or activity.
“I think everybody would have a different definition of tourism,” he said.
Supervisor Barry Pufahl of Pardeeville noted that Columbia County communities have local groups that promote business, including tourism.
Those groups need to take a leadership role in promoting Columbia County tourism, Pufahl said.
Fahrner said she already has begun raising money for the continuation of the Columbia County Economic Development Corp., including soliciting aid from local communities and organizations.
Work has begun on the publication of the 2019 tourism guide, as well as the tourism awards banquet in March, she said.
The finance committee approved the expenditure of no more than $84,575 to remodel the congested quarters for nine accounting department employees in the new Health and Human Services Building, 111 E. Mullett.
J.H. Findorff and Sons, the firm that oversaw the construction of the recently completed $46 million building project, submitted the low bid of $53,600 for the construction.
Schepp said much of the existing furniture will be reused, but the U-shaped work stations will be widened by about 18 inches to give employees more maneuverability. The cost for furniture is capped at $20,975, and likely will be less than that, she said.
Design and planning services from Janesville-based Angus-Young Associates have been capped at $10,000 and may be less, Schepp said.
Plans call for the start of construction to coincide with the arrival of any new furniture that might be needed, Schepp said — something that could take several weeks. During the construction, the department’s employees will move temporarily from their office space on the building’s second floor to other vacant space within the building.