The Turlock City Council met Tuesday accepting, on a 4-1 vote, the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) 2014-15 Budget, per City staff’s recommendation, to allocate $249,253 on the basis that it encourages economic development in the City.
The adoption of the budget devotes Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) dollars, the additional tax on hotel and lodging services, to CVB services and activities.
CVB is charged with marketing for the community with the goal of making the City a more attractive place for potential visitors as a means of bringing in outside dollars. Per the City, the goal of the program is increased convention sales, tourism marketing and services.
The approved $249,253 budget is comprised of $138,000 administrative allowance with the balance of funds allocated to other projects and programs specific to the plan. The allowance includes a new event planner position, which would be shared between the City, Chamber, CVB and Turlock Downtown Association. A $111,253 budget for various elements relating to the promotion of tourism is also included.
The Council approved the $111,253 allotment, which includes $10,000 for Directory and Visitors’ Guides, $45,000 for community funding, $10,000 for official city maps, $4,000 for media tourism advertising, $1,200 for web hosting and domain fees, $1,000 for smart phone technology, $5,000 for new and upgraded equipment, $2,000 for conferences, $2,000 for event hosting and receptions, $1,000 for travel, and $3,000 for the Carnegie Weekend Visitors Center.
During the Meeting, Turlock's Assistant to the City Manager for Housing and Economic Development Maryn Pitt noted benefits derived by the City from the CVB and Chamber while also mentioning that the program budget is a work in progress.
“The City actually benefits from a great deal of the economic development materials that are printed as a result of the efforts of the CVB that we include in many of our outreaches to potential employers and companies and organizations who are looking to come to Turlock,” said Pitt.
During the Council’s discussion on the matter, many concerns were raised regarding the effectiveness of the CVB and logistically, how it might improve.
Councilmember Amy Bublak inquired to CVB representatives present at the meeting regarding past effectiveness; she inquired regarding the number of downloads of the CVB app, popular devices used to access the website, most searched terms on the CVB website, and social media presence.
“As I’m reading this looking and looking for results, and data and statistical analysis, all I have is expenditure stuff, I don’t have any projections of revenue what you did in the last couple years, what worked, what didn’t work…what we can anticipate in six months, what we can anticipate in a year. And with $250,000…I think we should just have that,” said Bublak.
“And I’m not saying that you guys aren’t the people who should have this [the contract], I’m just saying we should have this information.”
TurlockCityNews.com sent an email to Turlock Chamber CEO Sharon Silva, CVB Director Desa Cammack, and City of Turlock Economic Development's Mayrn Pitt on Nov. 14 requesting stats and data but did not receive a response from any of them.
Cammack did not have the number of app downloads on hand at the meeting, noted that most traffic does come from PC users, and stated the most common search terms include “ag,” “Turlock” and “dining.”
“Facebook is growing, we could definitely be doing some paid advertising to encourage the likes, shares and comments, but it has continued to grow, it has continued to go forward,” said Cammack in response to Bublak’s questions regarding social media presence.
As of Wednesday night, the Turlock Convention & Visitors Bureau Facebook had 858 likes.
Bublak, the lone dissenting vote, favored waiting to vote on the matter until the CVB and Chamber could provide statistics, data, and a plan of action before allocating the funds; she also called for a business plan preceding a decision.
Noting the $3,000 allotment for the Carnegie Weekend Visitors Center, Bublak mentioned the California State University, Stanislaus Art Space on Main as a potential place to serve in the interim of the CVB during weekends and extended hours instead of the Carnegie Center. The CSU gallery is open Monday 12- 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday from 12 to 9 p.m., and is closed Sunday.
Bublak proposed splitting the $3,000 allotment in half to share between the Carnegie Center and the gallery.
“I’d rather us like slow it down for just a second and wait and vote on it when we get the statistics…Right now it’s predicated on emotion, it’s not on factual data, and that’s a little bit tough for me.”
Bublak also questioned the printed maps and directories, which are provided to local hotels and the CVB, and the $20,000 that is designated toward those materials in the budget.
“When we’re handing out a bunch of paper, and people are far more inclined to use apps, and we can force that…we can probably force the hotels to [use the apps and print]…we can save money there,” said Bublak concerning the $10,000 allotment budgeted toward maps.
However, members of the CVB said that maps and directors remain popular.
“They’re a hot commodity, especially with our hoteliers, with our visitors that come in…so much so that we came out with a separate map called the Attraction Map,” said Cammack.
“I thought about two years ago we would quit printing the maps…literally, I’m not exaggerating…there’s two to three every day [that come in for the map],” Sharon Silva, Turlock Chamber of Commerce CEO.
Councilmember Bill DeHart, though ultimately voting to approve the budget, voiced concern regarding the fact that no statistics or data on the current effectiveness of the services offered by the CVB were presented.
“While I understand the concerns about having background information and statistics, i think that one of the things that we do need to keep in mind is that the effort we are expending at this particular point is evolving, it’s a working document, it’s a spending plan.”
DeHart commended the groups for their vision and willingness to adapt going forward for the Council’s need for additional information.
“I can, without reservation, wholeheartedly endorse and support this plan [without the] need for scientific empirical, voluminous data.”
“I’d just as soon not see us stop dead in the water…We gotta keep moving forward,” said DeHart.
DeHart noted the “Mayor’s Select Task Force on Economic Development,” stating that the Chamber and CVB’s goals are all similarly aligned.
“Therefore I would support the plan before us,” concluded DeHart.
Councilmember Steven Nascimento spoke on the role of the Convention and Visitors Bureau as a whole.
“You have to pursue activities to get people to stay in the community,” said Nascimento. “That’s part of the goal here, to get people to stay in hotels, not just visit and then go home.”
Noting the progress of the City in the past 12 to 13 years, former City Council candidate Donald Babadalir spoke regarding the matter during the public comments section with questions regarding the brief plan offered in the Council Agenda.
“I’m very happy that the Chamber is pushing, in terms of marketing…we need to attract more business over here,” said Babadalir.
“I was just somewhat curious as to why there was only a two page summary…that kind of raises some questions,” added Babadalir, also stating that he wished to see more of how money is being distributed and allocated.
Sergio Alvarado, former City Council candidate and Parks, Art, and Recreation Commissioner, also spoke regarding the budget.
“Half of this money won’t even be seen by taxpayers because it’s going to be held up in administrative costs,” said Alvarado concerning the $138,000 associated with administrative costs.
“$250,000 is quite a bit of money,” said Alvarado. “That was five times the amount of money that was budgeted for roads last year.”
“It’s just a major concern of mine that that much money is [going to] administrative costs.”
Bublak again raised concerns with the project.
“If I’m supposed to represent the public at large, I need to let them know that I wouldn’t spend $250,000 of my own personal money, or theirs, without knowing what I’m getting for it,” said Bublak. “I’m sure that they can give us that information…but it’s not here…that’s my only concern.”
Nascimento moved to approve with condition that CVB and Chamber comes before the Council again with an action plan, with cost assessments to review and a proposal to shift their budget in line with the City’s.
Roy Wasden, City Manager, had conversations with the groups regarding the possibility and feasibility of aligning the CVB and Chamber’s fiscal year with the City’s fiscal year.
Councilmember Forrest White was in favor of the project overall, calling the administrative budget cheap, and necessary if Turlock wanted to be competitive in the CVB world.
“If the hoteliers aren’t making money, the TOT doesn’t exist,” said White. “We can talk all we want about tourism, but what’s our occupancy rate? And if we’re filling the hotels and motels, and doing well, then we’re a successful CVB.”
“I don’t care how many hits are on the computer, if they’re not renting a room over night, we’re in trouble, because they’re the ones paying the bill,” said White.