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Agencies make sales pitch for Gainesville tax dollars

POSTED: April 23, 2009 11:19 p.m.

Six agencies that are funded partly with city tax dollars presented their funding requests Thursday for next fiscal year to the Gainesville City Council.

Agencies such as Keep Hall Beautiful, Elachee Nature Science Center, the Economic Development Council and the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau do not rely solely on city tax dollars for funding. And this year, their directors seem to be aware that they may have to learn to live with even less of it.

Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the City Council the bureau has done its best to cut expenses while still bringing tourists to the city. The bureau, funded by revenues from the city and the county’s hotel/motel taxes, requested a budget number for fiscal year 2010 that is 90 percent of the funding it received from the city for the current fiscal year.

"We’ve managed to maintain," Dickson told the council Thursday. "We did our best to cut back."

Dickson tried to assure council members that plans to relocate the bureau to Exit 16 on Interstate 985 in no way meant that the bureau would abandon its efforts to bring tourism to the city.

The council has been concerned that since the visitor’s bureau changed its name from the Gainesville-Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau and planned to move its headquarters to Oakwood, the bureau also may be shifting its focus from bringing tourism to Gainesville to other areas of the county, City Manager Kip Padgett said.

Gainesville taxes account for about 35 percent of the bureau’s proposed budget, according to numbers from Gainesville Chief Financial Services Officer Melody Marlowe.

"Putting the visitors center at the highway is like putting the welcome mat at the front door," Dickson said.

"All I can assure you is that Gainesville is our hub."

Like Dickson, the leaders of other agencies spent much of their time Thursday telling the council how they manage city tax dollars and lobbied for continued financial support.

Main Street Gainesville’s Debra Harkrider told the council there were numerous "intangible reasons" the city should continue providing funding to the downtown association.

Main Street Gainesville requested $82,250 of the city’s hotel/motel tax revenues. The request is a small reduction from the current year’s funding and makes up about 60 percent of the agency’s proposed budget for 2010.

"We need a vibrant downtown of bustling events and programs that really make Gainesville shine," Harkrider said.

"We have to look at that besides the numbers and all the facts and figures."

Harkrider said that the events the downtown agency sponsors every year have grown in size recently and may be more important because of the lagging economy.

"If we weren’t here, I think you’d miss us," she said. "We are a quality of life issue. We put on all these free events for the community."

Directors of other agencies, such as the Elachee Nature Science Center, said that while city funding is a smaller part of their overall budgets, they do not need to be discounted.

"Every $100 for us makes a huge difference," said Elachee’s president, Andrea Timpone.

The leaders of the nature preserve and wildlife education center have requested $12,500 from the city’s General Fund. The request is the same amount that the city gave the center this fiscal year and is less than 2 percent of Elachee’s proposed budget for 2010, according to numbers Marlowe provided.

All of the agencies’ budget requests likely will see some changes before the council finalizes in June its spending plan for 2010.

Before the agencies came before the council with their requests Thursday, City Manager Kip Padgett told the council Wednesday that no cuts had yet been made to the agencies’ budgets.

"We want you to see what they’ve proposed," Padgett said.


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