A decrease in the amount the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau receives from Marietta's hotel and motel lodging "bed" tax would be detrimental to the CVB's efforts to promote the region, according to bureau executive director Jeri Knowlton.
"If our 3 percent portion of the tax is cut, it's going to diminish our effectiveness and limit opportunities to promote this area," she said. "And that would be damaging to our local attractions and businesses-every shop, dining facility and hotel, because we promote everybody."
Currently the city and CVB split the total 6 percent lodging tax 50/50, with 3 percent going into the city's general fund and 3 percent to the visitors bureau, but recently city council members have questioned whether to reduce the CVB's share. It may be the right time for that, they've said, since the bed tax has risen 5.5 percent in the last year and the cut would not have as much impact.
State law dictates how much lodging tax Ohio municipalities can assess. Towns that have convention and visitors bureaus may charge the full 6 percent allowed by law, but that revenue has to be shared with the CVB.
An ordinance enacted by city council in 2007 approved the even 50/50 split of the tax with the CVB. But by state code the city could amend that legislation and take up to another half of the bureau's 3 percent share for the city's general fund.
Although there's been no formal discussion so far, some city council members have suggested the possibility of reducing the CVB's lodging tax allocation and putting that money toward the annual operation expenses at Armory Square, once that renovation project is completed.
At a glance
The Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau had a total income of $412,040 in 2011.
The CVB's 3 percent share of Marietta's 6 percent lodging tax brought in about $291,000 in 2011, a 5.5 percent increase over 2010.
CVB expenses for 2011 totaled $338,899.
Net income for 2011 was $73,141.
Source: 2011 CVB financial report and CVB Executive Director Jeri Knowlton
"We've not discussed it in finance committee at all, but I know we can't just take that money and put it into the armory," said finance chair Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward.
He said the council members will eventually address the recommendation, but would probably wait until April when the CVB presents its quarterly report to the finance committee.
Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, an ex-officio member of the convention and visitors bureau board of directors, believes a section of the state code governing the use of the bed tax allows the CVB to dedicate a portion of its 3 percent of the tax to support a museum.
"And we will have a room for a veteran's museum inside the armory," he said. "But we could also say the entire armory building is a museum as it will be an historic preservation project."
Noland said he intends to bring the subject up for discussion at a future council committee meeting.
But city law director Paul Bertram III said some provisions in the Ohio lodging tax law contain deadlines for enacting those measures, and many of those deadlines have expired. He said a thorough review of the code would have to be done in order to determine what is and is not allowed.
CVB board president Chuck Swaney said a cut to the bureau's annual allocation of the bed tax would be a step in the wrong direction.
"We can't afford to lose any money. My recommendation to the city would be to take a portion of their 3 percent of the bed tax from the general fund and place it toward the armory," he said. "Our current operating budget is just barely sufficient enough to operate and try to expand our services."
Swaney noted that about 35 percent of the CVB's total budget goes into salaries and administrative costs.
In 2011 the bureau's total income was $412,040. Expenses totaled $338,899.
Employee expenses in 2011, including payroll, taxes, and benefits, totaled $89,041.
Swaney said that figure does not accurately reflect an annual cost for all four employees, including Knowlton and three assistants, because one of the workers did not come on board until late in the year.
He said two of last year's employees left the bureau at the beginning of this year, and Knowlton is currently in the process of trying to replace them.
Knowlton said the employee costs are low because the bureau does not cover health insurance benefits and workers are not highly paid.
"We're talking about a wage, not salaries," she said. "So we're able to keep those expenses down. But all of the employees are very committed to selling Marietta and the surrounding area as a distinctive destination."
Neither Knowlton nor Swaney would provide figures on the pay rate for each of the employees.
Replying to an e-mail requesting that information under Ohio's open records law and the federal Freedom of Information Act, Knowlton said the CVB board of directors had denied the request.
"Since 1962, when the CVB became independently incorporated, its day-to-day governance is solely by its board of directors," Knowlton explained via e-mail. "The CVB is a private, 501c6, non-profit organization which is appointed to receive a portion of the bed tax. The CVBs purpose is not governmental however, but rather commercial in nature."
Knowlton also noted the CVB does not perform any function traditionally and exclusively reserved to the public sector.
"I can only say that the total cost (of salaries) is 35 percent of our budget," Knowlton said. "The remaining 65 percent goes into promoting Marietta and Washington County as a tourist destination."
She said that money is used for advertising, visitor guide printing costs, online marketing and other promotional efforts, including marketing the local area at travel and tourist shows.
"We attended the Snowbird Extravaganza in Florida this year and it's the best show we've ever had," Knowlton said. "I handed out more than 960 visitor guides for this area."
The Snowbird Extravaganza targets people who travel from Canada to Florida every year to escape the winter weather, then travel back north for the summer.
Knowlton said the staff also attends other shows in cities including Pittsburgh, and Knoxville, Tenn.