Tourism events like the It’s a Wonderful Life Festival in Seneca Falls, pictured here in December 2018, are a major economic driver in Seneca County. The future of tourism spending in the county has been up for recent debate.

Tourism events like the It’s a Wonderful Life Festival in Seneca Falls, pictured here in December 2018, are a major economic driver in Seneca County. The future of tourism spending in the county has been up for recent debate.

 

There is going to be a debate about the future of tourism spending in Seneca County. It’s not a new debate, but this time, the Seneca County Board of Supervisors seem inclined to look at other options.

Those new options include the money collected by the County from hotels and motels, which charge a percentage that is then used to promote and grow tourism. Since hotels and motels are a vital part of the tourism effort, it is sensible to many that the funding be used for that effort.

In the past, the Board of Supervisors have looked for other ways to utilize parts or all of the funds, but those efforts have largely fallen flat. The Board may have a new chance at exploring other options, though, after a vote at the most recent meeting of the County Economic Development and Tourism Committee. 

The committee members voted three to two to table a motion that would have directed County Manager Mitch Rowe to add more than $434,000 of the County’s total $484,000 occupancy tax collection in the budget for the Tourism Promotion Agency (TPA). Under the policy, which was passed by the County Board of Supervisors in 2017, 90 percent of the occupancy tax collection is set aside for the Chamber of Commerce, which acts as TPA.

Committee Members Dave Kaiser, Ralph Lott and Don Trout approved tabling the motion. Supervisors Ron McGreevy and Ernie Brownell voted against tabling.

One point of contention, from Chamber President Jeff Shipley’s perspective, was some $37,000, which the Chamber would have been owed if the 90 percent rule were being observed in full this year. During a short debate about the funding, Shipley made his case to the supervisors - which included concerns about maintaining the integrity of the fund.

He echoed those concerns after the session, discussing what he views as the best possible outcome for Seneca County.

“The Chamber of Commerce, in its capacity as the official Tourism Promotion Agency for Seneca County, expressed its support to the Board of Supervisors for maintaining the integrity of the tourism fund,” Shipley said. “We strongly believe that proceeds from the county’s Occupancy Tax have the greatest return on investment when leveraged for larger, county-wide tourism marketing efforts rather than individual, smaller contributions to select businesses, events or other programs that may have non-tourism funding options.”

He said that given the fact that tourism is a significant driver of economic activity in the Finger Lakes, and that Seneca’s budget to attract tourism is significantly less than surrounding counties, the Chamber has still succeeded in marketing the county.

“Despite our county’s tourism promotion budget being significantly less than neighboring counties, Seneca County has realized positive visitor spending growth every year since 2012, making it one of only four counties in the region to do so,” Shipley said. “This is a testament to the strength and diversity that exists in our overall tourism product, and the investments we have made to date have had an enormous impact on Seneca County’s economy, including increased sales tax revenue.”

“We look forward to engaging in further discussion with the Board of Supervisors to find ways that maximize available resources and provide greater opportunities to raise awareness for Seneca County as a premier tourism destination,” Shipley concluded.

One of the supervisors who was opposed to extending additional funds to the Chamber, and who remained interested in seeking out alternative uses for occupancy dollars, was Cindy Lorenzetti. The Fayette supervisor expressed her disappointment in the entire ordeal after the debate had concluded.

“I was disappointed with how that conversation went but am looking forward to additional talks about the future of occupancy tax dollars and how we use them,” Lorenzetti said. “We have to be thinking about what’s best for the whole county.”

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