In a game of back and forth, the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau (GCCVB) board of directors have volleyed an emergency funding proposal back to the Greenbrier County Commission.
The CVB board met in emergency session on Friday morning, July 29, immediately preceding the county commission’s emergency meeting at 9 a.m. Both these emergency meetings focused on the CVB’s request for a $450,000 for its tourism recovery marketing plan, which GCCVB Executive Director Kara Dense said is necessary to let travelers throughout the region know that the Greenbrier Valley, despite the recent flooding, is open for business.
The $450,000 would come from the county’s bed tax coffers, which is funded by a 3 percent hotel/motel tax paid by visitors and is required by law to be used to promote tourism.
On Friday morning, Commission President Michael McClung offered the CVB a $450,000 loan to be paid back, interest free, over five years. Payments would be $90,000/year, beginning in January 2018.
Commissioner Lowell Rose, who sits on the CVB board, argued against the loan during the commission meeting, expressing doubts that the CVB would be able to repay the loan. He recommended tying the loan to a 3 percent increase in the bed tax; Greenbrier County is the only county in the state that doesn’t charge a 6 percent bed tax, he said.
McClung rejected the tax increase outright, and he and Commissioner Woody Hanna voted in favor of the $450,000 loan under the five-year, 0 percent terms. Rose voted against the proposal.
Immediately following the commission meeting, the CVB board reconvened to discuss whether to accept the loan. During the CVB meeting, Rose questioned whether the five-year loan was even legal, since state code prevents county commissions from issuing loans past one year. With that, the CVB tabled the matter and entered into recess until Wednesday, Aug. 3, in order for Rose to explore the legality of the loan offer.
On Wednesday, the CVB board members gathered again at the visitors center, and Rose reported that Greenbrier County Prosecutor Patrick Via, who serves as the county’s attorney, had confirmed that it is illegal for the commission to loan money for more than a one-year period.
With that in mind, the board reworded its proposal, asking the commission for a $450,000 grant “on a five year schedule.” The proposal draft, distributed at the meeting, states that the CVB would “reimburse the County Commission for the Grant at the rate of $90,000 annually, beginning Jan. 1, 2018.”
“It’s just semantics,” stated CVB Board President Mike Kidd.
Once the wording of the proposal was established, the CVB board was charged with whether to approve the proposal. Reimbursing the commission to the tune of $90,000 per year is going to be challenging, all agreed, especially given the sharp downturn in tourism dollars the Greenbrier Valley has seen since the late-June flooding.
But, Kidd said, “Somebody needs to do something.”
Rose, who represents both the commission and the CVB, cautioned against taking the grant under those repayment conditions. “How do you pay it back at $90,000 per year?” he asked. “You will be strapped for funds with The Greenbrier cancellations. Even without the flood, you wouldn’t have funds to pay (it) back.”
CVB board member, and county commission candidate, Brad Tuckwiller argued in favor of the grant. “Alternatively, it’s going to get worse. We’d have to turn out the lights,” on Greenbrier County tourism, he said. Calls to The Greenbrier resort are down by 30 percent, he said, and many of the calls that are coming in are to cancel reservations.
“The same thing is happening at the State Fair,” said Kidd.
“The grieving process ends with getting up and going back to work. That’s what we have to help people do,” Kidd continued.
CVB board member Doug Hylton offered up the idea of asking the city of Lewisburg, which also receives a portion of the bed tax, to help with the grant reimbursement.
“This is a no-brainer,” said General Lewis Inn owner and CVB board member Sparrow Huffman. “If there’s no one in hotels, then there’s no hotel-motel tax. If we don’t have people in beds, it trickles down to local businesses. It’s a risk worth taking.”
In all, seven CVB board members voted in favor of the $450,000, reimbursable grant proposal, with Rose recusing himself from the vote.
The CVB will return its proposal to the county commission and ask to be placed on the next meeting’s agenda. The county commission will meet again on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 10 a.m.