$417K in cuts could close Springfield tourism agency’s doors

A local tourism agency is rallying supporters because it could see its entire budget eliminated as the city of Springfield considers $1.5 million in cuts after voters appear to have rejected raising the local income tax.

But it’s difficult not to examine tourism dollars when other critical services, such as police and fire, might be cut, Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said.

>>RELATED: $1.5M in proposed Springfield cuts include safety services, parks

The Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau took to social media last week to ask residents to e-mail city commissioners and attend Tuesday’s city commission meeting to speak out about keeping its $417,000 funding in next year’s budget.

“That’s literally all of our funding … It would literally close down the CVB,” Bureau Director Chris Schutte said.

Springfield city staff members have recommended about $1.5 million in cuts next year in several departments, including to parks, municipal court and safety services.

The visitors bureau is housed inside the Chamber of Greater Springfield, but is a separate agency. It’s funded solely through lodging taxes, Schutte said, and has two full-time employees and one part-time worker.

The cuts come as a proposal to raise the city’s income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.4 percent appears to have fallen short earlier this month by 55 votes. It could face a recount — or even pass — depending on the outcome of about 800 provisional and absentee ballots from city residents still to be counted.

The ballots will be reviewed by the Clark County Board of Elections at 10 a.m. Monday and the official certification is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday. The city’s budget reviews will continue at 8 p.m. Tuesday, after the city commission’s regular meeting at 7 p.m.

>>READ MORE: Audit: Springfield needs income tax hike, must study consolidation

Springfield city commissioners are expected to vote on the 2017 budget on Dec. 20. If the income tax hike passes, the $1.5 million in cuts won’t be made next year, but could be considered in the future.

The city is expected to use reserves to offset a nearly $1.4 million projected deficit at the end of next year, which will leave its rainy day funds at about $470,000 — or 1.2 percent of its overall budget.

The city and the visitors bureau split the lodging taxes annually. Each are expected to receive about $459,000 in lodging tax this year, Schutte said, up from about $307,000 in 2011.

The CVB’s contract is up at the end of this year and Schutte will likely ask for another five-year contract with the city. The organization is already bidding on events as far ahead as 2020, including the Miss Ohio pageant.

Tourism had an economic impact of about $390 million in 2015 in Clark County, Schutte said, up from $326 million in 2011.

About 25 percent of the lodging taxes are required to go toward promoting tourism, city leaders said, while the remainder can be used for the city’s general fund.

>>DETAILS: Complaint claims Springfield tax committee failed to report finances

The city could save money by providing some tourism services itself, including by supporting parks, and redirecting the rest of the lodging taxes to its general fund, Springfield Finance Director Mark Beckdahl said.

It will be difficult to provide the same level of service as the CVB provides, including events such as the Farmer’s Market and Holiday in the City, Springfield City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill said at a budget meeting last week. The group took over both events from the former Center City Association earlier this year.

“If we do it here, people are going to expect the same level of service,” O’Neill said.

It’s hard not to trim tourism dollars when police and fire services will be cut, Copeland said. The city is considering cutting $100,000 in overtime for police officers and firefighters, as well as shuttering both Fire Station No. 5 and the Johnny Lytle police substation.

“We’re cutting critical services to the people of Springfield,” Copeland said. “The average citizen cares a lot more about police and fire than tourism … Let’s not assume everything being done over there has to be done (in the future). We’re cutting services across the board.”

The city is in a budget crisis, Schutte said, but has had five years to plan for budget cuts from the state. He’s troubled the city hasn’t looked at other alternatives for reducing costs made by both the Community Financial Advisory Committee and an independent audit, such as reduced personnel, benefits and longevity payments, as well as combining its 9-1-1 dispatch with Clark County.

The city is willing to look at all the recommendations in the audit, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller has said.

But that report also didn’t find any smoking gun or areas of credible inefficiency, Bodenmiller said.

“It indicates we’re doing a good job in managing the funds that we had,” he said previously. “We’re in this condition because a $5 million-plus hole created by cuts from the state, property tax delinquencies and a lack of EMS revenues to cover our costs. Those were all areas outside of the city’s ability to control them.”

The bureau has brought in more visitors, Schutte said, leading to more lodging taxes and an increase in tourism economic impact by $70 million since 2011.

“We brand the community,” Schutte said. “We’re the ones who create the identity for the community … This is a very effective partnership. Let’s work on it and build it.”

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