Questions linger on Wimberley funding of Visitors Center

Questions about how much hotel occupancy tax (HOT) funds Wimberley could allocate to the city’s convention and visitors bureau for 2017 expenses led city leaders to table the matter March 15.

The decision continues the ironing out process of an agreement between the two entities.

The three-year agreement, which was approved by a split 3-2 decision Feb. 15, calls for the city to partially reimburse the city’s convention and visitors bureau expenses from the previous year with HOT funds. The reimbursement would only be valid if the bureau provides its annual expense report. Wimberley also approved a one-time $23,000 payment to the bureau to renovate its front offices.

In return, the Wimberley Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, also known as the Visitors Center, would operate and maintain the city’s visitors center and provide information to visitors, including relaying information about local lodging options.

While the city council approved the initial agreement Feb. 15, city leaders did not commit funding at that time.

On March 15, the Wimberley Visitors Center requested HOT funds to cover 2017-2018 expenses, which received mixed reviews.

One of the primary issues was using HOT funds to cover a $27,000-plus future part-time staffing expense.

Mike Scott, Wimberley Valley Chamber of Commerce treasurer, said the inclusion of a part-time staff member would create a “more consistent product,” along with the ability to help the chamber’s full-time staff train volunteers.

Currently 75 volunteers help the chamber and visitors bureau, with training done by current management.

Scott said adding the part-time paid staffer could add an additional level of accountability.

However, the part-time position was not included in the chamber’s FY 2017-2018 expenses. The Visitors Center requested the city cover 100 percent of the $23,400 for staff wages, and cover $24,481 of the $97,924 for management salaries.

All told, the Visitor Center is requesting $76,030 of its $159,166 in expenses to be reimbursed via HOT funds.

Scott said if the chamber and visitors bureau had the money, they would try to fund the part-time positions themselves.

“There are a few items that are new that we don’t have money for,” Scott said. “We can’t fund them in advance.”

Council member Allison Davis, who is also part of Wimberley’s HOT funds committee, felt the part-time position could be reconsidered after the city completes its hire of a tourism director. However, Davis said she was “disappointed” to see the part-time position in the request packet.

“I understand we are reimbursing you for 2017, but we are going to have a tourism director soon,” Davis said. “That was one of the reasons some people in the HOT committee wanted to pause on that part and wait.”

Council member Gary Barchfeld believed the Visitors Center request should go through the city’s HOT funds committee for recommendation prior to a final decision. Barchfeld said other entities and events seeking HOT funds must go through the same process.

“The conciseness of the plan doesn’t appear to be there,” Barchfeld said. “We take to the HOT committee, this is what we like to do. They pass judgement and bring it back to council.”

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