At Tuesday’s Turlock City Council meeting, Mayor Gary Soiseth announced that the Council would revisit on the $249,253 Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) budget at the next meeting, planned for Feb. 10.
CVB, which is ran by the Chamber of Commerce, 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 then-Council, which included former Mayor John Lazar and former Councilmember Forrest White, approved the CVB contract on a 4-1 vote on Nov. 18.
Soiseth released a statement following the meeting announcing that the Council would vote on the contract on Feb. 10 and would initiate a 90-day termination process, if passed with a majority vote.
“Over the past few weeks, this Council has started the process of creating a renewed City strategic plan and actively analyzing our department budgets,” said Soiseth in the statement. “The need for a comprehensive and clear marketing plan for our great city has been a recurring theme.”
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.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Sharon Silva said she had no comment, although Silva mentioned that she was notified late Tuesday night about the decision.
At the time of the vote, Council approved the contract with the condition, as moved by Councilmember Steven Nascimento, that the 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.
Although Council will be voting on the termination of the contract before the six month, Soiseth said the contract is not being revisited too early.
If approved, a 90-day termination process would begin, which would end approximately at the six month timeline for the Chamber to provide the statistics Council previously asked for.
“I don’t think that’s it’s out of the realm for what is fair for the Chamber to ask that the 90 days trigger and then it end at roughly the same time as the six months,” said Soiseth, adding that the Chamber could provide the requested data in a proposal.
Councilmember Amy Bublak inquired CVB representatives at the November meeting about past effectiveness, asking for statistics and data. 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.
“As I’m reading this looking and looking for results, and data and statistical analysis, all I have is expenditure stuff,” said Bublak in November. “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.”
Councilmember Bill DeHart also voiced concern over the lack of statistics on the current effectiveness of the CVB, although he ultimately voted yes on the contract.
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.”
Two former City Council candidates also spoke out against the contract at the November meeting.
“$250,000 is quite a bit of money,” said Parks, Arts and Recreation Commissioner Sergio Alvarado in November. “That was five times the amount of money that was budgeted for roads last year.”
Alvarado was also concerned with the $138,000, of the $249,253 total, allotted to administration costs. Although White called the administration costs cheap.
2014 Turlock City Concil Candidate Donald Babadalir spoke up saying, “I’m very happy that the Chamber is pushing, in terms of marketing… we need to attract more business over here."
“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.
Along with the 90-day termination process that would begin with a majority vote on Feb. 10, the vote would simultaneously allow the City of Turlock to solicit proposals from other qualified parties to provide marketing and tourism services.
“I think that the Chamber can put together a great, competitive proposal, but I think that others out in the community can also do that as well,” said Soiseth.
It is unknown if the Chamber will submit a proposal to continue marketing services with the City of Turlock. Silva said the decision will be up to the Board of Directors and she had not met with the board at the time of her email.
Soiseth did say that he has spoken with Silva, who told him that she had the metrics requested already and could deliver them as early as March.
“With this Council, what I’m trying to push is for more accountability for what we’re getting from the CVB,” said Soiseth.
The City of Turlock has recently placed other items of similar cost out to bid. At Tuesday’s meeting, Council unanimously approved a motion authorizing the City Manager to enter into a three-year contract with Westamerica Bank of Turlock for banking services in an amount not to exceed $216,000 per year.
The City has been banking with Westamerica Bank for nearly two decades, according to Robert Baker, Regional Vice President of Westamerica Bank. Despite that, the City solicited proposal from five other banks — Oak Valley Community Bank, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Bank of the West, Turlock Commerce Bank, and US Bank.
A report delivered at Tuesday’s City Council meeting determined that Westamerica Bank was the best deal for the City of Turlock.
If the City Council approves the item on Feb. 10, Soiseth’s hope is that the City of Turlock would be able to the receive the proposals and make a decision on who would take over the marketing and tourism of Turlock, whether that be the Chamber of Commerce and CVB or another company.
“Turlock deserves to have a transparent and competitive process that results in clear expectations for both the City and those executing CVB services,” said Soiseth in Tuesday’s statement. “I am a mayor that wants to deliver effective and efficient services for our residents in every department: from police services to recreation services to marketing services.”
The Turlock City Council will meet to discuss the CVB contract at 6 p.m. on Feb. 10 in the Yosemite Room of City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.