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Committee tables revision to lodgers’ tax policy

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The Roswell Finance Committee decided to table an amendment to the lodgers’ tax use policy.

City Councilor Steve Henderson made a motion to table the measure to allow the staff to receive suggestions before the next meeting. Councilor Jacob Roebuck seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.

Juanita Jennings explained the proposed amendment would allow the city’s Public Affairs department in conjunction with Cubic Inc., the city’s contracted marketing agency, to purchase media with lodgers’ tax funds and place the media on behalf of event organizers.

“Longterm, ideally, this would a be a direction I could see the whole lodgers’ tax policy falling where we don’t award any dollars, like a cash or check, to these event organizers and we actually place the media for their event along with our marketing campaign,” Jennings said.

According to the agenda, ‘Lodgers’ Tax Use Event Policy’ was adopted last year on Aug. 10 and organizers requested an amendment in both October and November, and a revision was adopted at a meeting in December. The policy states that lodgers’ tax funds can be used for advertising, publicizing and promoting tourism-related events and the awarding of the funds is subject to council’s approval and availability.

Jennings and Allison Gray, events and tourism events manager, informed the council that the next round of lodgers’ tax would happen in April. With future revisions, Jennings said event organizers are now comfortable with the new policy and requested the council be mindful of this before making more changes.

Jennings clarified the money would not be distributed to organizers and the city would retain funds to purchase and place the media. She said little would change otherwise in the policy and the reimbursement process would remain the same. The other minor revision was to have the reimbursement date change from 90 days to 60 days to be more timely.

The councilors voiced concerns about inundating the Public Affairs department with more work.

Grant said he could see this option with the city’s Public Affairs department could provide “a benefit to the city” and would provide a pathway to use lodgers’ tax “money more economically and more efficiently.” He also wondered how many groups would take advantage out of this option in the beginning and encouraged the city to “proceed cautiously” with that in mind.

Some of the councilors were also concerned about the binding nature of having this trial period in a policy. In response to this concern, Jennings clarified if the option was not in a policy, the department could be perceived as showing favoritism to certain organizations.

Henderson asked what would happen if an organizer did not like the media. Jennings clarified the media is placed ahead of time and organizations would be required to pay for the work. Roebuck said he could see the “directional shift” with the policy and could see the value to the city in the proposed amendment.

Roebuck said if the event organizers wanted complete control over the advertisement and media, they could do it themselves — otherwise, Jennings’ department would have complete control over the ads. He said he was concerned about the Public Affairs department “becoming an ad agency.” Roebuck said this could be an “experimental first-step” if the department was willing to take it on and the city should “push forward” in the attempt.

Jennings said with their marketing strategies, the city has goals and objectives and they share those with Cubic Inc. in order for the company to research the best media to buy and where it should be displayed. She said this process would be used with these lodgers’ tax situations.

Jennings said she also had concerns on adding more work for her staff. She said also she did not want event organizers “to blame the city if their event is not successful,” if they did not have goals and strategies in place.

When asked what she felt about trying the new option, Jennings said, on one hand, the option could be “very beneficial for the city” by enhancing local events and helping local organizers who are not media or marketing savvy, but felt some uncertainty about the situation. Stubbs said there are different levels of producers of these local events and suggested that Public Affairs could invite all of those for a special events workshop.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.