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Commission wants new look at bed tax spending

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners are not happy with how the Convention and Visitors Bureau spent some money generated by the transient guest tax.

During Tuesday night’s work session, Mayor John Matta directed the staff to come up with some alternatives to the current way the CVB manages its $1.2 million budget.

Matta said he wanted consideration of a set-up in which the CVB would be an independent entity that reports directly to the commission. The CVB current advisory board reports to the Chamber of Commerce.

Matta wants the contract between the city and the Chamber to be more specific about grants given by the Chamber or the CVB, which is run by the Chamber.

He also wants the city to be able to keep a portion of the tax.

Currently, the city turns over all the money to the Chamber and CVB to spend on marketing and tourism for Manhattan. The transient guest tax is a 6 percent tax on hotel rooms, with 5 percent to be spent on marketing and tourism and 1 percent to fund the Flint Hills Discovery Center.

Commissioner Karen McCulloh said that she would also like to have more reports on how well the money is being spent by the Chamber and CVB.

Deputy city manager Jason Hilgers said that those changes could be easily implemented through the advisory committee’s bylaws. He said that would more clearly define the relationship of the CVB with the commission.

Tuesday’s discussion to change the contract and the advisory board, which is renewed annually in December, was sparked by a decision by the Chamber to give a $25,000 grant to the Fieldhouse Project for performing a feasibility study for a sports complex in Manhattan.

Several commissioners said they were upset – not that the CVB gave the money, but that the Fieldhouse group didn’t come before the commission.

“I think that was the problem,” Hilgers said, “that the Fieldhouse Project did not come before the city with its proposal.”

Hilgers said the CVB has given grants to perform similar studies in the past, but those were joint efforts between the Chamber and the city.

Commissioners also agreed they wanted to continue to contract for services with the Chamber on marketing Manhattan for tourism, but “tweak” the contract and role of the CVB to include more oversight and control by the commission.

“So we don’t have these things that we don’t know about happen,” Matta said.

The composition of the CVB advisory board was also discussed. Commissioners said they wanted to ensure more than just the hoteliers are on the board, but according to state statute the majority representation must be from hotels. Hilgers said that was one of the reasons most cities opted out of the state statute and created a charter ordinance that establishes a CVB advisory board. Manhattan currently follows state statutes.

CVB director Karen Hibbard said the board has six hoteliers, four hospitality business representatives, one chairman of the board and four non-voting members. State statute requires a minimum of 10 members with the majority being hoteliers.

Two hoteliers spoke during public comment asking the commission give them more say and more power in advising the CVB on how it should spend the transient guest tax.

However, three business owners also asked the commission to appoint more business owners or citizens-at-large to the board to give a broader representation of those benefitting from tourism in Manhattan.

No formal action was taken during the meeting because it was only a work session.

City officials will bring proposed changes to the contract and bylaws before the commission for a formal vote later.

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