BRISTOL, Va. — Members of City Council generally agreed Tuesday that lodging tax revenues should be the city’s sole source for tourism marketing but stopped short of establishing how much funding to provide.
The council focused about half of its two-hour meeting on discussing a funding source for Discover Bristol, the convention and visitors bureau and — to a lesser extent — downtown marketer Believe in Bristol and music heritage promoter the Birthplace of Country Music. Funding those agencies has been a regular debate during recent budget cycles, and Mayor Bill Hartley called it important to have the discussion away from that pressure.
“This is the only chance all five of us can hear from each other at the same time,” Hartley said. “I think we’re getting closer. I think we made a little more progress this time than we did last time. We’ve still got a ways to go.”
State law requires localities that charge a lodging tax to allot some portion of it to tourism marketing but fixes no amount. During fiscal 2019-20, the city’s 9% tax on rooms rented at local hotels generated $1.3 million in revenues. For the current fiscal year, the council allocated $50,000, or 3% of that total, to Discover Bristol, down from $125,000 two years ago and $175,000 in fiscal 2016-17.
Councilman Kevin Wingard suggested using 10% of lodging tax revenues to fund all three agencies, but Hartley disagreed, saying he didn’t think that was enough.
“I don’t want to come up with something that gives them less. I want to try to give them more so they can do more and incentivize them to do more,” Hartley said. “What they’ve been asking for, for the last two or three budget cycles, is a floor so they know — with a fair amount of certainty — how much money can they expect.”
Wingard said that if lodging tax revenues rise — should voters approve the casino referendum, opening the door for the proposed Hard Rock Bristol project that includes an up-to-700-room hotel — those agencies could then share in the projected windfall.
Councilman Kevin Mumpower renewed his call for the city to consider marketing through internet booking sites. He also urged the council to require Discover Bristol to be funded through specific tourism marketing projects.
Council members rejected a Mumpower proposal to include a portion of meals tax revenues in the funding mix.
“Most of the people who stay in hotels don’t live in the city,” Councilman Neal Osborne said. “But when you’re talking about meals tax, I eat out, people eat out. Then, all of a sudden, instead of most people from outside paying the tax and us giving the money to the agencies, people in the city are also giving money to the CVB. I think that’s when you have more people who are upset.”
Council members also didn’t support a suggestion from City Manager Randy Eads to include a portion of the city admissions tax in this funding. It is generated from ticket sales at concerts, movies, the BCM Museum and the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival.
The council directed city CFO Tamrya Spradlin to provide them the last two years of lodging tax collections and percentage breakdowns between 10% and 20% to consider when they next revisit the issue.
In other matters, a divided council voted 3-2 to approve a five-year lease-purchase agreement to acquire a new $263,000 trash truck — a rate of $57,000 annually — which is already included in the 2020-21 solid waste division operating budget.
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