For the first time, the city of Columbus is expected to have the majority of representatives on a commission that hands out more than $1 million annually to support tourism efforts.
Under an ordinance that was preliminarily approved Monday by the Bartholomew County Commissioners, Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown will be allowed to make six appointments to the 11-member Bartholomew County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Promotion Commission, instead of her current five appointees.
If the County Commissioners give final approval to the ordinance on Oct 8 as expected, the change will go into effect in January.
The money is generated by the innkeeper’s tax, which consists of 5 percent of the cost of local hotel and motel stays lasting less than 30 days.
The change is required by state laws that call for appointments to be based on population. Brown said that when Columbus grew to 57 percent of the county’s population, the city became entitled to appoint most of the commission’s members.
County Commissioners President Larry Kleinhenz said that since many of the county’s appointments already are Columbus residents, he has no concerns about giving the mayor a majority of the appointments.
But Kleinhenz also said he continues to hear concerns expressed about how the Columbus Area Visitors Center has been using its funds from the tax while generating revenue from other sources. One concern is the level of compensation earned by some of the center’s administrators.
In an email addressed to the County Commissioners last May, Brown stated she felt members of the visitors commission should stay informed on how the Visitor Center is spending innkeeper’s tax dollars. She also encouraged commission members to attend the Visitors Center meetings and examine their records under Indiana’s public access laws.
“This commission decides how the hotel tax is to be distributed and somewhat reviews how they are spending and using those dollars,” Kleinhenz said. “But their business is not to totally analyze the Visitors Center. It’s the function of the Visitor’s Center board to make determinations about salary levels.”
But commission president Dan Arnholt feels the mayor’s suggested directives are within his group’s jurisdiction.
“We’re charged with disbursing money. Obviously, the buck stops here,” Arnholt said. “If we feel there is something inappropriate, we need to follow up and make sure the money is being spent correctly.”
State law and local ordinances require that the funds from the innkeeper’s tax be used for tourism, which has been defined broadly to consist of bringing tourism money (for hotels, restaurants, shops) into the county.
Brown said she has no agenda for the commission after the change is made next year.
“My only concern is to make sure that we comply with the law,” Brown said.
Earlier this year, the mayor and commissioners agreed that the composition of the board was incorrect under state law, so all of the existing members were asked to resign, and new members were appointed.
The terms of five county-appointed members will end Dec. 31 of this year. Only Mary Ann Patterson is slated to serve through the end of 2013.
The only city appointed member whose term will end on New Year’s Eve is Sarla Kalsi, retired Irwin Management president.
Arnholt said the county will not make any decisions about commission members until a replacement for retiring County Commissioner Paul Franke takes office in January.
Brown says she does not have anyone in mind for her additional appointment.
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