In effort is under way by Jefferson County, Ind., tourism board members to change the way innkeepers’ tax money is distributed each year to help local individuals and organizations market and operate their events.
Led by the efforts of board member Tami Hagemier of Lanthier Winery, the Jefferson County Board of Tourism is working to develop a strategic plan as it moves forward, as well as refining its bylaws and generating a document to guide the board in deciding how and when to distribute funds to individuals and groups in the community in their planning of tourism-benefitting activities. The document also will include elements to measure results and ensure that the money is being used for its intended purpose.
Jefferson County Board of Tourism members who resigned:
Robert Little, president
Tara Cox, vice president
Renie Stephens, treasurer
New Jefferson County Board of Tourism members (Including their affiliated appointments):
David Bremer, president (County Commission)
Curt Chatham, vice president (City Council)
Tami Hagemier, treasurer (City Council-Tourism)
Wendy Lawson, secretary (Chamber of Commerce)
Nancy Crisp (County-Lodging)
Todd Boone (City Council-Lodging)
(One current vacancy exists to be appointed by the Madison mayor)
VisitMadison Inc. members who resigned:
Cara Fox, president
Renie Stephens, treasurer
New VisitMadison Inc. board (Including their affiliated appointments)
Lucy Dattilo, president (City Council)
Joe Craig, vice president (County Council)
Hannah Fagen, secretary/treasurer (City of Madison)
Jeff Frazier (Ribberfest)
Kara Hinze (Chautauqua)
Cari Morrison (Chamber of Commerce)
Tami Hagemier (JCBT)
Curtis Chatham (JCBT)
(Three current At Large vacancies exist that are to be voted on by the VisitMadison Inc. board)
Ever since a decidedly awkward and tense meeting of the JCBT on Aug. 5 that erupted over the decision to give money to the 5-to-the-5 vintage hydroplane group for its September Madison Vintage Thunder, dramatic changes have taken place both in the makeup and operation of the board. In the wake of that meeting, four JCBT board members of the seven-person, volunteer panel resigned, while five members of the VisitMadison Inc. tourism board resigned. (Two members who resigned – Renie Stephens and Tara Cox – served on both boards). Stephens, the longest-serving board member and who is general manager of Clifty Falls State Park, served on both boards as the treasurer and managed the innkeepers tax collections and board finances. She had been a tourism board member for more than 22 years.
The wholesale resignations of board members were not entirely a result of that one meeting but rather had been brewing for a few months, according to one member who resigned. In addition, VisitMadison Inc.’s Group Tours Manager Marci Jones, who also coordinates the annual Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes, resigned her post after 16 years. Her last day was Sept. 30.
The JCBT exists by state statute to collect innkeepers’ taxes and then disperse the money. Last year’s innkeepers tax collections totaled $504,806 by the end of December, collection reports show. Most of the money – $312,149 in 2020 for example – was provided to the VisitMadison Inc. board for its annual operating budget. VisitMadison Inc. operates the Lanier-Madison Visitors Center, manages festivals, hosts group tours and advises and supports other local groups that hold their own events, among other activities.
But thousands of additional dollars from the innkeepers tax collections are divided among various local groups who submit proposals to help fund their events. The program was initially designed to be used for marketing purposes, Hagemier said, but over the years, the money has been doled out and used for many other purposes besides marketing. And in many cases, no receipts were provided for how the money was spent.
But that is about to change.
Hagemier has been researching how the JCBT operated in recent years and has helped orchestrate a dramatic change in the way the board will operate, going forward. In a Sept. 21 board meeting held at the Jefferson County Commissioners’ office, Hagemier presented a draft of the document that she says will get the board back on track with regard to distributing money to local individuals and groups. She wants to money to be available to more than the same two or three groups that have always received it in the past. She wants the document to set down restrictions on when and how local groups can submit proposals for funding, including parameters to measure results and ensure the grants will provide a good return on the investment.
VisitMadison Inc. Executive Director Tawana Thomas, who attended the Sept 21 JCBT meeting, was asked for comment but said she was unavailable due to working on the 2021 budget.
At the meeting, a slate of new officers was voted in to head the board: David Bremer (a county commissioner) as president, Curtis Chatham (branch manager of a local industrial supply company) as vice president, Wendy Lawson (a restaurant owner) as secretary and Hagemier (a winery owner) as treasurer. Nancy Crisp and Todd Boone (lodging owners) are also new board members. One board seat to be appointed by Madison Mayor Bob Courtney is still vacant.
Photo courtesy of Ron Harsin
Miss Jean, named for the late Jean Johnson of Madison, Ind., sails across the Ohio River at the Sept. 19 Madison Vintage Thunder. The annual event has received a grant for the past three years from the Jefferson County Board of Tourism. But his year may be the last for a while.
While only four JCBT members attended the meeting, including Hagemier, she recounted a list of issues that she said need to be addressed. But chief among them was the formulation and approval of a document setting down guidelines for awarding grant money to local groups planning tourism-related events. She said that once the draft is finalized, it can be put before the full board for approval. The board usually meets on the last Monday of the month, but at press time, there was no plan for the board to meet on Sept. 28, tourism officials said.
Additionally, Hagemier suggested at the meeting that the new funding process require that an organization requesting money have a tourism board member as a sponsor and have the VisitMadison Inc. staff possibly review the proposal before it is presented to the JCBT. “That way, we will know beforehand what they need before they come in to make their presentation,” Hagemier said. She also wants the program to be more widely available throughout the county.
“Any business – for profit or nonprofit, faith-based, doesn’t matter. If you have an idea to benefit tourism, bring it and pitch it,” Hagemier told the board. “In the past, it’s been a very narrow group of people coming in asking for money. We’re tying to get county-wide tourism included and get everybody back in the game.”
Hagemier said a numerical scoring system may be used to help evaluate future funding proposals. “We seem to have a pattern of the usual events and the same people coming in asking for money.”
But that is about to change.
• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at info@RoundAbout.bz.
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