Moving money

Town manager Roger Stancil has the $62,000 tipping fees expenditure covered. It’s just a matter of moving some numbers around, he said. Turns out the town had planned to pay the county $90,000 this year as part of its share for purchasing greenway land. The town will pay the unexpected tipping fee expenditure from the money set aside for the land purchase, then put whatever remains of the $90,000 toward the land purchase.

And Jim Ward saw through my concern over our over-paved neighborhood. Streets in our part of town have been resurfaced so many times that they are about the same height as the curb, creating a sharp drop-off where the street meets the gutter. We have a similar height discrepancy between the street surface and manhole covers, which are as deep as potholes. When I mentioned to some neighbors that our streets are once again slated for another inch of resurfacing, the ad hoc response was that we should pull a Tiananmen Square protest, laying our bodies down when the asphalt trucks arrive. Ward made Public Works director Lance Norris promise to mill the edges of the streets to reduce the sharp angle of the drop-off. But nothing can be done about our manhole potholes.

Ward found no support for giving the Orange County Visitors Bureau an extra $20,000. Already the town gives the bureau $150,000 annually to promote tourism in Orange County. Laurin Easthom said that, given the tight economy, now was not the time to gift more money to the Visitors Bureau while cutting funds to nonprofits. Ward said the tight economy is precisely the time when the town should be supporting the Visitors Bureau. He pointed out that Durham is building ever more hotels along our county border, and Chapel Hill needs to be able to compete. Hotel tax contributes to town revenue, some of which is used to support nonprofits. Sally Greene sided with Easthom, and when Ward made his motion, no one seconded it, rendering it dead before it even came to vote.

Perhaps that was for the best. Ward’s seat is up for re-election this year. Had his motion come to a vote, he would have run the risk of being labeled “pro-business” and accused of being part of the Matt Czajkowski/Gene Pease pro-business cabal.

Pease was absent from Monday’s meeting. Donna Bell left shortly before the end of the meeting with the council’s blessing as she felt ill.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. Mark Marcoplos

     /  June 14, 2011

    The label “pro-business” is just as revealing as being called “pro-food”. Someone who eats primarily quality, local, nutritious food is not “anti-food”.

  2. Linda Convissor

     /  June 14, 2011

    I was on the Visitors Bureau board a few years ago. Their financing is complicated but I think I’m right that comparing the funding the Town provides the Visitors Bureau with funding they might (or might not) provide for social service non-profits is comparing apples and oranges. The Visitors Bureau funding comes from occupancy taxes that visitors pay to their hotel/motel, not from property taxes.

    If I remember right, the state statutes that authorize the occupancy tax require that the occupancy taxes collected by hotels and motels are used to support tourism. Although the standard in the state is for municipalities to give 60% of the occupancy tax to their visitors bureau, Chapel Hill gives much less. CH generally gets around $1 million from the occupancy tax, yet returns just $150,000 to the Visitors Bureau. I don’t know what they do with the remainder, but it has to go towards supporting tourism. Orange County, which collects a smaller percentage of the tax, gives it all the Visitors Bureau.

    Anyway, regardless of what percentage of the occupancy tax you think the Visitors Bureau should receive, I am pretty sure that it can’t be used to make up the shortfall of contributions from the Town to many of the social service non-profits that request funding.

    I’ve always been surprised that the community seems conflicted about tourism. Seems to me it’s about the cleanest economic development there is – people come to visit, spend their money and then they leave. No schools to fund, etc. Chapel Hill is really a small town. To support the restaurants and local stores we value, we need visitors. A town of 50,000+, even with Carrboro , Hillsborough and Orange County added in, can’t support the incredible restaurants we are all so proud of.

    Do any of you remember the saying, “With traffic comes bagels”? I think there’s something similar to be said about visitors and our great restaurant and cultural scene.

  3. Jon DeHart

     /  June 14, 2011

    I agree with Laurin and I support Laurie and the CVB , and its mission . As my wife is a Board Member …

    Two questions :
    Did Jim disclose that he is a Board member when requesting these funds ?
    Why ask for about a 13 % increase for one group when almost other groups were staying the same or a reduction ?

  4. Nancy Oates

     /  June 14, 2011

    I don’t believe Ward mentioned being on the Visitors Board. Laurie Paolicelli asked for an extra $20,000, and Ward thought it was a good idea, because, my understanding anyway, was that it would generate revenue for the town. He seemed to view it as an investment, which, from what Linda Convissor says, is quite a high return. Does that $1 million come from occupancy tax alone and goes directly to the Town of Chapel Hill? Or is it money that tourists spend in Chapel Hill annually and goes to restaurants, gift shops and hotels? If occupancy tax alone is bringing in that amount of money, no wonder every development project that comes before town includes a hotel. I had no idea that many people were spending the night.

  5. Linda Convissor

     /  June 15, 2011

    Jon, I think that Jim is on the CVB because he is on the Council – check with your wife but I think there’s always a council member on the board, so his involvement is known and there was nothing to “disclose’. Though for those in the listening audience, it would have been helpful to know he is on the Board. I see that you posted at almost exactly the same time I did, so I’m guessing you hadn’t read that the money the CVB was asking for was money that was generated from the occupancy tax. So the increase it requested was for funds it had generated itself; in most other cities those funds would have been allocated to the CVB.

    Nancy, the $1 million is from the occupancy tax; I think the total amount estimated to be generated by tourism is magnitudes higher than that – maybe over $100 million. You might want to check with Laurie P at the CVB to find out what the amount is. I know I’m always blown away by how much tourism generated overall.

  6. Mark Marcoplos

     /  June 15, 2011

    The State of Things had an interesting segment yesterday about the budget cuts to Tryon Palace in New Bern. The spokesperson for Tryon Palace said that it was responsible for $40 million annual input into the local economy. Tourism certainly does represent relatively painless economic activity and local jobs.