By Linda Kor
The Holbrook City Council met Tuesday evening, and the majority of the meeting was spent on a review of how lodger’s tax funds are spent in order to determine how they should be allocated in the upcoming budget.
The lodger’s tax generates approximately $160,000 per year, according to Assistant City Manager and Finance Director Randy Sullivan. Those funds are earmarked for certain groups that promote tourism for the city, including the Navajo County Historical Society, the Holbrook Chamber of Commerce, the Navajo County Fair Board and events that are held in the city under the direction of Community Events Coordinator Kathleen Smith.
Each group went before the council, providing information on how those funds are being used.
Smith provided a breakdown of events held throughout the year, with an event noted for nearly every month. Also included were advertising costs for the city and the events. The expenses range $50 for the city block parties being held this month to the Petrified Forest Marathon in October for $11,500. Most of the events fall in the $100 to $2,000 range with the exception of a mud run in August and the Route 66 Festival in June for $3,000 each, and $8,000 for vinyl billboard skins and installation. In total, the budget Smith presented came to $42,540, but she noted that several of the events would most likely be self-sustaining, such as the races, which generate funds through entry fees.
Some of the new events for the coming year would include an expanded Fourth of July celebration, a Pony Express Relay Run in conjunction with Urban Trails Adventures, a Halloween carnival, a partnership with Petrified Forest officials regarding their Artists In Residence program and even a beach party. “I’m planning a picnic along the Little Colorado River beach by the Lewis Subdivision in May. This was a citizen’s suggestion, who mentioned that in the past people would gather there for picnics, and hey, if there’s no water, we’ll just need fewer lifeguards,” said Smith.
Following her presentation, Chamber of Commerce President Yvonne Larson and Executive Director Michael Nilsson presented their objectives as an organization. They detailed the efforts of the chamber to create business development and to educate front line personnel for local businesses in order to best serve the visitors that come to the community.
“We are creating a larger emphasis on marketing,” Nilsson explained, noting that the chamber will be providing programs for five athletic events at the high school that will include advertising, developing a stronger network of businesses through events such as the 12 Days of Christmas, and a guide for hotels and restaurants.
Last year the city allotted the chamber $57,000 for its efforts to develop business and tourism, this year they are asking for the same amount with hopes for an additional $8,122 or more to expand Nilsson’s position from part-time to full-time.
After they detailed the many efforts to promote businesses and the chamber’s involvement with the promotion of such events as the Bucket of Blood Races and Wild West Days, Councilman Wade Carlisle asked what the mission of the chamber is.
Larson explained that it is primarily involved in promoting business and tourism in the community, and that the true definition of a chamber was to be a liaison between business and government.
Carlisle then made it clear that while he appreciated the professionalism in the chamber’s presentation, he wasn’t comfortable with providing funding. “Here’s my biggest issue. Government funding a private organization to lobby government, it’s un-American. I have a huge philosophical problem with paying you to lobby us,” he stated. “We have taxes to promote services for constituents such as police and the legal system, and then it steps off from there to include roads and things of that nature.”
Larson clarified that they were not operating as a lobbyist, but as a liaison. “We are not lobbying for funds, we’re a buffer zone for businesses to approach government, a point of contact,” she said.
Councilman Phil Cobb agreed with Larson, stating that while he agreed with Carlisle on a national level, on the grassroots level he did not see it as a lobbying endeavor, but businesses trying to promote themselves and the community.
“The material you provided is excellent,” said Carlisle, pointing to the literature provided by the chamber. “This is more production than any chamber we’ve had that I know of. I’m just not sure if it fits in purview of the tourism contract for the lodger’s tax.” He went on to explain that the concepts were great for business, but that business should be paying for it and that by doing so, it would create a stronger network within the chamber of business leaders working together.
Larson asked Carlisle if he felt that all the entities present at the meeting should not be funded. After a moment’s hesitation he nodded and said, “Yes.”
“What’s the Christmas festival for, commerce or business? How much draw do we get if every community is having a Christmas festival? Wild West Days is different, people will stay the night and this generates revenue. These are the things I think about. What is our intent?” asked Carlisle.
Cobb asked Carlisle if he was saying that the city should not fund the chamber of commerce. “For certain events, yes,” he said.
Nilsson spoke up to clarify what the chamber is providing, noting, “Tourism is a lot more than a brochure. We want to build a network to improve the experience of tourists and this comes through business training. To rely just on membership would be tough to promote services to our members.”
“I’ve bought and sold businesses, and (City Manager) Ray Alley has, too,” he said, nodding toward the city manager.” I just don’t like government involved in business very much,” said Carlisle.
Alley asked that the council move on to the Navajo County Historical Society, as the council was not being asked to make a decision that night.
Jolynn Fox and Nicole Young then presented their information to the council. Young is the president of the society, while Fox serves as secretary/ treasurer. They noted that the museum located inside the historic courthouse now has new exhibits and improved lighting.
“We get a lot of compliments. This isn’t like some museums with a blank wall and one object. We have overflow. We’re cross-referencing items and working on data entry, as well,” explained Fox.
Young explained that the museum is open seven days a week and provides a vast amount of history, as well as books for purchase. “If you haven’t been to the museum, you really need to come in. I had one visitor tell me that he travels to museums all over and ours is the best in the country,” she said.
This year the city provided $32,400 in lodger’s tax funds to the historical society. Society officials are requesting an increase to $41,480 for the coming year, with the funds earmarked to hire a part-time employee for the front desk at the visitors center.
The final presentation came from Mike Sample, president of the Navajo County Fair Board. The city has been paying the board $40,000 each year to add to the fair budget. Initially, the funds were provided to pay for a sewer agreement the city had with Navajo County, but that agreement ended two years ago. Since that time the city has continued to pay the board because the fair and other events held at the fairgrounds brings people into the community.
“The fairgrounds are being used, I would say, three out of four weeks for different events. It’s the Navajo County Fairgrounds, but really, its just Holbrook that benefits from the events held there. People that come to them stay in hotels, maybe eat at a restaurant, or buy a battery or whatever things they need,” stated Sample.
Carlisle once again addressed concerns he had. “I believe originally county fairs were provided to generate commerce. People would bring their livestock or goods for sale. The focus has left and now it’s a plaything. It’s not promoting business. Since we’re providing the $40,000, I think you need to look back at your mission,” he said. “At what point are we just going to government for money for amusement?”
Sample explained that it is difficult to get vendors that are willing to come to Holbrook. “We’re competing with Los Angeles and New Mexico and other big fairs when we recruit. All fairs are like this. How else can we generate funds? We seek out corporate sponsors, get money from the gates and from vendors,” he said.
Sample also noted that in addition to the $40,000 from the city, the fair board receives funds from the state in the amount of $60,000 and another $60,000 from the county by way of two paid employees. “It costs $395,000 to keep the fairgrounds open year round,” he said.
Carlisle explained what he believes has to happen in order for Holbrook to prosper. “I had a neighbor tell me that when the Air Force left, we survived, and when the Forest Service left, we survived, and we will continue to survive. We survive, but we are not improving. What will bring back business will come from the chamber. Not another Walmart, every other place has a Walmart. What unique business in Holbrook will bring people? Those are things we need to think about. It’s the only option.”
Following the presentations, Alley summed up the information by showing that the requests for lodger’s funds include $42,540 for community events, $3,200 for Yesco for the contract on the electronic sign at Gillespie Park, $1,400 for maintenance at the historic courthouse, utilities at approximately $10,000, a $3,500 contribution to the Hashknife Posse for the annual Pony Express Ride, $40,000 to the fair board, $57,000 to the chamber of commerce and $41,480 to the historical society.
“That makes expenditures of $199,120 for a revenue of $160,000, with an additional $8,000 in expenditures if you include extra money for the chamber’s request to make their part-time position full-time,” Alley explained.
There was no action taken by council members regarding the lodger’s tax fund, but they did ask Alley to review potential outcomes to disperse the funds within the amount available. The council will consider the requests that were made and review options for discussion at the meeting set for May 12.
In other business, the board approved invoice expenditures totaling $129,139.35.