Proposed tourism contract would place requirements on the Chamber of Commerce
Published 8:30 am Monday, February 15, 2016
When the Carter County Commission convenes its February meeting on Tuesday, members will be asked to vote on a contract between the county and the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce regarding the promotion and development of tourism.
The subject of a contract between the two has been the subject of much discussion since the county approved its budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
A Private Act requested by the county and approved by the state legislature in 1984 created a hotel/motel tax for all hotels and motels located within Carter County. Under the terms of the Private Act, the county is authorized to retain in the county’s general fund either 2 percent of the tax collections or $12,000, whichever is less. The remainder of the collected revenue is to be earmarked specifically for tourism and the Private Act requires the county to contract with a not-for-profit or civic organization to promote and develop tourism.
Since the Private Act was instituted, the tourism revenue collected through the tax was designated to the Chamber of Commerce. However, during the 2015-16 budget cycle, members of the Commission voted to withhold that funding —approximately $90,000 — from the Chamber. The withholding of tourism funds was linked with the county’s decision to withhold funding from it’s joint economic and community development board, Carter County Tomorrow.
Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey later informed members of the Commission that no evidence that a contract between the county and the Chamber of Commerce for the promotion of tourism existed.
During the Commission’s January meeting, the Chamber of Commerce was asked to give a presentation on its work to promote tourism within Carter County. Susan Robinson, Humphrey’s administrative assistant, gave a presentation on an alternate plan to promote tourism which had been drafted by the Mayor’s office.
Ultimately, the Commission voted to restore tourism funding to the Chamber of Commerce and directed County Attorney Josh Hardin to draft the retired contract. The Commission also voted to create a Tourism Task Force to help foster new ideas for tourism promotion and development.
The newly created Task Force will include one representative from the Chamber of Commerce, one from the City of Elizabethton and one from the City of Watauga along withe eight representatives from the County Commission, one for each of the county’s eight districts. Representatives from the Chamber, City of Elizabethton and City of Watauga have not been publicly named at this time. The following commissioners will serve on the Task Force: Dr. Robert Acuff for the 1st District, Mike Hill for the 2nd District, Charles VonCannon for the 3rd District, Danny Ward for the 4th District, Bobbie Gouge-Dietz for the 5th District, Randall Jenkins for the 6th District, Scott Simerly for the 7th District and Cody McQueen for the 8th District.
The contract Commissioners will be asked to consider on Tuesday includes specific duties for the Chamber of Commerce in its role promoting tourism and also includes directors for how it is to interact with the newly created Tourism Task Force.
“The Chamber expressly agrees that it shall implement the recommendations of said task force to the fullest extent possible which may alter or amend some of the provisions of this contract,” the contract states. “Should the Chamber fail to implement, or in good faith attempt to implement, the recommendations of the task force it will be considered a material breach of this contract.”
The contract sets a restriction that it cannot be altered by “oral representation or modification” and can only be modified in writing and must be signed by all parties in order to implement the change. However, the contract also sets an exemption to that restriction, by giving the Tourism Task Force the authority to alter the contact agreement by means of its recommendations, and states that the Chamber must agree to accept any amendments made by the Task Force.
“However, any amendments or modifications to this contract that may be required based on the recommendations of the county task force discussed herein are specifically bargained for in this contract and if the amended or modified terms are not accepted by the Chamber then the procedure detailed in (the contract) shall be triggered and this contract may be terminated by the county,” the contract said. “Such a termination shall not be considered a breach of any duty by the county.”
The contract gives the county the authority to remove tourism funding from the Chamber if the county feels the Chamber has breached the contract or failed to implement or make a good faith attempt to implement any recommendations by the Task Force. The contract does not require the Task Force to present any recommendations to the full Commission for approval before issuing those recommendations to the Chamber.
If the county feels the Chamber is in breach of contract, it is required by the terms of the agreement to provide a written notice of the alleged breach to the Chamber and a representative of the Chamber shall appear at the group’s next regular meeting or a special called meeting “to show cause why the contract should not be terminated.” The full Commission would then vote on whether or not to terminate the contract and remove tourism funding from the Chamber.
Under the terms of the contract, the Chamber would be required to present a proposed budget to the full Commission each year as well as file copies of annual audits and financial reports with the Carter County Court Clerk’s Office along with a description of the tourism program and proposed use of the county’s tourism funds. “This requirement must be satisfied prior to the commencement of payments by county for the initial term of this contract and annually thereafter,” the contract says.
Also on the agenda for Tuesday’s Commission meeting are appointments to the Siam and Hampton Utility Districts and a resolution reaffirming the county’s debt management policy.
The Commission meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the main courtroom at the Carter County Courthouse.