The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors and the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau appear to finally be on the same page with regard to local festival funding.
Supervisors voted Monday to request $30,000 from CVB to fund three county festivals — Artesia Days, Caledonia Days and Crawford Day — with each to receive $10,000. The funds are to be allocated from tourism tax collections, which taxes 2 percent on prepared food and beverage sales at businesses within the Columbus city limits.
Per an inter-local agreement with the county, the CVB now has 30 days to release the funds to the festivals’ organizers. But after the vote, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks cautioned Jimmy Sanders and Willie Dean Parson, mayors of Artesia and Crawford, respectively, who attended Monday’s meeting, not to expect the money so soon. The tourism tax just came back on the books in April, he noted, after nearly a year of not being collected. The tax collections provide more than 90 percent of CVB’s operating funds.
“It’s not our money,” Brooks said. “The CVB is required to allocate it from their money. All we are doing is authorizing CVB to allocate these funds to these municipalities. … The inter-local agreement says from the time we notify CVB that they have up to 30 days to give you the money. I don’t think very seriously, that even when we notify them, you’re going to get your money within 30 days. … Once we send this letter, it could very well be August or September. You’re not going to get it right away.”
When The Dispatch contacted CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter about the vote late Monday morning, she, at first, indicated the festivals might not get the money at all.
“The county can vote, but we don’t have $30,000 to give to all of these festivals,” Carpenter said. “We can’t just give $30,000. We have not been funded since last August. If we had to come up with all the festival funding, we couldn’t do it.”
In a second interview roughly four hours later, however, Carpenter told The Dispatch the CVB would, in fact, distribute the festival funds in a “timely manner.” That said, the festivals may receive half the money up-front and half after the events, according to Carpenter, which is in keeping with how CVB has funded such events in the past.
“We really have no choice,” Carpenter said. “It’s in the inter-local agreement. We’ve not had any funding since last August. We’re just fortunate to be moving forward. We will abide by the inter-local agreement. We will get it done. We will do as we have been asked and make sure that it is done in a timely manner.”
First enacted in the 1980s, a county wide 2-percent restaurant sales tax remained on the books until July 2018, when the state Legislature did not renew it because of disagreements between state and local officials on the revenue threshold for businesses that would be required to collect it. Those funds, under the former law, went entirely to the CVB and economic development agency the Golden Triangle Development LINK — with CVB getting all but $250,000 of what became nearly $2 million in annual collections.
CVB went without the revenue source for 10 months (the organization received April collections in June), borrowing funds and using its reserves to make ends meet in the interim.
Legislators voted in a new 2-percent tourism tax this year, restricting collections to establishments within Columbus. It also appropriated $400,000 to the city and $300,000 to the county for recreation annually. Both the city and county also have inter-local agreements, totaling $90,000 per-year combined, for CVB to provide funds from its share of collections for seven designated festivals — including four in Columbus and the three for which county supervisors approved funding on Monday.
CVB, which received $125,000 in June for its share of tax collections, has provided 50-percent up-front already this year for Market Street and Juneteenth, with the second half of the funds due to them within 30 days.
Artesia Days is set for Aug. 2-4, with Crawford Days following Sept. 6-7 and Caledonia Days set for Oct. 18-19.
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