Tourist Commission Still Trying To Move In A New Direction

File image: Diamond Point Welcome Center

Robert Moore

Herald Staff

[email protected]

Last week, the Harrodsburg-Mercer County Tourist Commission took several steps towards defining the new direction board members say they want to take. However, the tourist commission’s forward progress is being hindered, at least in part, by actions taken by the City of Harrodsburg.

At their last board meeting on Thursday, July 30, the tourist commission voted to hire a part-time bookkeeper, an outside auditor and a public relations firm.

But the board members are still having a hard time navigating the requests for funding for local events and agencies, including a request by the city that the tourist commission hand over half the restaurant tax collected  for March through June.

Earlier this year, the Harrodsburg City Commission voted to allow restaurants to not pay the taxes for the months of March through May. However, the legality of that action has been called into questions, and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s office has never provided any guidance on the issue despite a request from the tourist commission.

As a result, some local restaurants continued to make payments and now the city is asking for the half they were due under the old restaurant tax ordinance.

While the tourist commission has agreed to pay the city—minus the amount already paid to Anderson-Dean Community Park—they didn’t really know how much money that would be. The restaurant industry has been decimated by the lock down during the pandemic, with several local eateries still not reopening, and not all of the remaining restaurants paid.

Mike Inman said the “constant uncertainty” between the city and the tourist commission regarding the money made it difficult to make any decisions.

Under the old ordinance, the tourist commission collected the restaurant taxes and split the proceeds with the city, with the city disbursing the funds to local events and agencies that promoted tourism. Under the new ordinance, the city collects the restaurant tax but the tourist commission has control over how the entire amount is disbursed. As a result, many local events and agencies that had formerly relied on the city are now asking the tourist commission for funding.

At the board meeting, the board were told they’d received funding requests, totaling $284,000, including  $31,000 for the Harrodsburg First Main Street Program, $20,000 for the Fort Harrod Jazz Festival–which has since been canceled—and  $43,000 for the Mercer County Fair and Horse Show.

But the board took no action on funding any of the requests. Inman said they need to meet with the city to determine what the city is going to pay and what the tourist commission is going to pay. He said he hopes to have the answers by the next meeting.

“We’re still stuck kicking the can down the road again,” Inman said.

Joni Horn, chair of the board of directors at Anderson-Dean Community Park, brought a copy of the park budget. The tourist commission has previously agreed to pay the park $92,000 this year in monthly payments. But Horn said even with that and the county’s commitment to pay $125,000 over the fiscal year, the park is still facing a $59,000 shortfall. Horn told the tourist commission that Harrodsburg Mayor Art Freeman said he had a commitment from them for the full yearly amount of $125,000.

Inman called the park a priority for the tourist commission but he said they were trying to get an idea on how much money they had before they could make a bigger commitment.

“I can’t print money,” he said. Inman said they are looking at getting $160,000 instead of $315,000 which they got last year.

“We are going to work with you to try and fix this but you’ve got to understand it’s a special year,” he said.

Inman said the city’s request for the last three months had thrown them off again. He said the tourist commission had rolled over funds thinking the city wouldn’t ask for it. He said they might have to hold a joint meeting with city commission.

In other business, the Harrodsburg-Mercer County Tourist Commission:

• Agreed to hire 101 Business Solutions to rebuild and maintain the tourist commission’s website for a year. While they are still working out details of the contract, it states the commission will pay $23,000 which includes a new logo, a new website with monthly maintenance, links to existing websites,  podcasts, videos, social media posts, a calendar of events that visitors can download into their smart phone and a social media guide for the board members. The firm hopes to have the new website up and running by Sept. 11.

The firm hopes to have the new website up and running by Sept. 11.

• Agreed to hire Compuware to handle IT, including installing a TV screen, camera and speaker in the conference room for virtual meetings.

• Agreed to hire a part-time bookkeeper. The tourist commission declined to provide the name until the applicant had accepted the employment offer.

• Approved hiring a new auditor.

The next meeting of the  Harrodsburg-Mercer County Tourist Commission will be at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12, at Diamond Point Welcome Center.

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