BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The board overseeing city hotel/motel tax revenues, slashed the contributions received by the historical society and the city art’s group.
After a marathon meeting that lasted more than 3.5 hours Tuesday, the Fort Madison Tourism Commission voted to cut contributions from the city’s hotel and motel tax funds to the North Lee County Historical Society by close to $7,000 and the Fort Madison Area Artist Association by about $5,000.
Mayor Brad Randolph, who chairs the commission, then recommended to move the funds plus $1,000 to part-time City Tourism Director Jean Peiton’s budget.
The moves leave the NLCHS with a 6% contribution from the funds generated off a tax on hotel and motel stays in the city with a cap of $12,000. The group was previously receiving 9 percent of the funds or just over $19,000 per year. That percent was not capped, as for the previous five or six years the fund had more money due to Iowa Fertilizer Plant construction workers taking up beds while the facility was being built.
The FMAAA, represented by Director Brian Riggs, was also cut, but not as steep, with the commission agreeing to a 7.5% contribution or $15,000 max.
Andy Andrews, representing the NLCHS, and councilman Rusty Andrews who serves as the group’s treasurer, battled the commission for close to an hour over the contribution rate. The commission has clear intentions of moving the funds being allocated to groups away from support of brick and mortar operational expenses to costs associated with advertising and marketing tourism events.
Andrews showed expenses just under $700 for advertising and marketing on the group’s 2017 financial statement.
“When you show us you’re only spending $700 on advertising and marketing and you have $96,000 in the bank, how do I justify giving you another $19,000,” Randolph asked Andrews.
“If you’re gonna just look at advertising costs, you can’t,” Andrews said.
The meeting was a continuation of an October meeting where both the NLCHS and the FMAAA were taken to task over murky financial statements, with both funding requests being tabled until Tuesday night’s meeting.
Rusty Andrews challenged Randolph saying that the funds have always been used for operational costs since the commission was founded and changing that now would be pulling the rug out from under the group. Andrews also said the city itself uses funds for costs not associated with advertising, including using the city’s portion of the tax pool on the new depot.
City Manager David Varley then asked the commission how they wanted the city to set up paying the new structure when the city hadn’t yet appropriated the funds. Commission member Julie Hellman, who’s in her first year on the board, asked how it was a problem this time and not previous years. Rusty Andrews showed that it was a technicality in the bylaws of the commission. The conversation, which got heated at times between Varley and Randolph, resulted in the groups being asked to come in March, when the city works up its annual fiscal budget, to make their funding request at that time.
“I don’t want you to ask me a question, I want you to give me an answer,” Randolph said to Varley. “Going forward….how do we do this to avoid this technicality.”
Varley said having the groups come to the commission to request funding in March or April, as the city’s preparing its budget, would work better.
Riggs said he’s doing more marketing and advertising FMAAA than the historical society is and it’s time for a separation in funding amounts. Since the formation of the commission, the two groups have been funded equally.
Newest commission member Brian Wright asked Riggs how much money he spent in 2017 on advertising and marketing. Riggs said he couldn’t put an amount on it because a lot of his event line items are listed as a sum profit or loss, which he said were all profitable. However, Riggs said if he had to guess, he would say $10,000 to $15,000 last year. He said his marketing entailed post cards, some radio, some newspaper advertising, postage, and his time.
Wright said he could see a difference in Riggs’ marketing efforts for the FMAAA compared to the historical society. Commission member Lori Illner recommended keeping the contribution rate for the FMAAA the same, saying they were more of a cultural entity and not historical and they were using the money properly.
Randolph said it was important to remember before the fertilizer plant construction, the 9 percent represented less than $10,000 for some years and what’s happening now is a correction of sorts.
He recommended the $12,000 savings, plus an extra $1,000, be put into Peiton’s budget bringing the tourism budget to $35,000 from its current $22,000. The recommendation also included bumping the current year’s budget by $13,000. He said Peiton has already secured six bus tours through the city this year and wanted to bump the budget to keep that momentum going.
In other action, the commission heard a request from Jadi Zioui, the owner of the Parthenon Restaurant, who was looking for funding to construct a step-up stage in the Parthenon to host local talent shows and to produce videos highlighting Fort Madison’s history and points of interest. Her funding request was denied by the board.
The commission also heard reports from Charles Craft, co-chair of the rejuvenated Riverfest summer festival. Craft said the group has added dragon boat races and will feature national acts of the level of Steamboat Days. That lineup will be revealed at Kinnick South on March 10.
Fort Madison Partners Director Tim Gobble also reported on the disappointing turnout of the King Kat catfish tournament held last summer and said that he wouldn’t be recommending a funding request for the tournament again this year.