By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
The Tucumcari City Commission on Sept. 11 approved the city Lodgers’ Tax Advisory Board’s recommendation to allocate $28,000 of Lodgers’ Tax funds to the City’s Chamber of Commerce, but postponed a vote on the other $10,450 recommended by the lodger’s tax board.
The allocations the commission tabled were:
• $2,500 Tucumcari MainStreet’s Fired Up! event Sept. 28;
• $5,950 for the 2014 Rockabilly on the Route event;
• and $2,000 for the Eastern New Mexico Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Association’s Music Festival.
Representatives of the organizations whose requests were rejected said they were confused by the decision and by the fact that the decision was made at a special meeting Wednesday, instead of the regularly scheduled meeting Thursday. Several said they heard about the Wednesday meeting only hours and even minutes before it started.
Jim Lafferty, representing the Route 66 Museum, was on the agenda, but said he had understood that it was an agenda for the regular Thursday night meeting of the commission. He was not notified of the change of date, he said, until the Wednesday meeting had started. He made his request to the commission for a freeze on the museum’s lease with the Tucumcari Convention Center, anyway. The commission took no action on it, however.
Commissioner Robert Lumpkin said the longer agenda was moved to the Wednesday meeting in order to accommodate Mayor Amiel Curnutt’s schedule.
The commission held a meeting on Thursday with only one item on the agenda — a beer-and-wine license for the new K-Bob’s restaurant on South First Street. The commission tabled that license application, as well.
At the Sept. 11 meeting, the Chamber of Commerce’s allocation was nearly tabled with the other Lodgers’ Tax Board recommendation when Commissioner Robert Lumpkin’s motion to approve all the Lodgers’ Tax Board recommendations failed to receive a second. Before he made his motion, Lumpkin pointed out that the commissioners had agreed at a work session earlier in the day to approve all the requests.
After the original motion died, Commissioner Ernie Dominguez spoke. What the commission needed, he said, was “better accountability” in how the organizations that receive Lodgers’ Tax funds use the money. The Chamber, Dominguez said, had done an excellent job in accounting for how it used Lodgers’ Tax funds for their intended purpose, which is to promote events designed bring in tourists and advertise the city to tourists. The others, he said, had not provided enough evidence of how they would use the allocated funds to fulfill the purpose of the Lodgers’ tax.
Dominguez then moved that the Chamber’s request alone be accepted. The commission then voted unanimously to approve the Chamber’s request but table the others.
After the meeting, Curnutt said he, too, was surprised at the commission’s action to table the recommendations.
“Up until then,” he said, “I didn’t know we had a problem.”
Commissioner Dora Salinas-McTigue is the commission’s liaison to the Lodgers’ Tax Board.
“I listen to the citizens,” she said, “and they’re asking for more accountability.”
Among the events and organizations seeking funds through the Lodgers’ Tax Advisory Board, she said, only the Chamber of Commerce offered a detailed breakdown of how it had used the lodgers’ tax funds.
Others, she said, had not been as thorough about what they had done with allocations from last year, how they would use the money this year, and what it would return to the city.
“Funds are getting scarce,” she said.
City Manager Doug Powers said another matter that has been discussed with the lodger’s tax board was an option to use lodgers’ tax money to hire a marketing director and a director of tourism. One of the main focuses of these two city positions in that plan, Powers said, would be to make better use of the Convention Center.
“We still owe $155,000” to pay back construction funds for the center, he said. In addition, it costs in the neighborhood of $235,000 a year to maintain.
“It’s a nice facility,” Powers said of the Tucumcari Convention Center. He said Tucumcari’s facility compares favorably with convention facilities he’s seen recently in Taos, Santa Rosa and Ruidoso.
In the week previous to Sept. 11’s commission meeting, Chamber Executive Director Patsy Gresham had circulated a petition among Chamber members via e-mail to encourage the Commission to approve the Chamber’s allocation. After the meeting, Gresham produced itemized lists that she said commission members had seen that showed exactly where the chamber’s $35,000 allocation of lodgers’ tax money last year had gone.
After Sept. 11’s commission, Richard Talley, owner of the Motel Safari and one of the organizers of the 2013 Rockabilly on the Route event, said he was baffled by the commission’s decision, since the 2013 event used no lodger’s tax funds. Talley and other organizers, he said, “paid out of our own pockets” to put on the Rockabilly on the Route event in June. The event’s success, he said, showed that next year’s event should receive lodgers’ tax support.
“We drew 600 out-of-town guests for three days,” he said, which contributed to lodging, restaurants, bars, grocery and liquor sales to the city’s economy.
Mark Lake, director of Tucumcari MainStreet, said he was “disappointed” in the commission’s decision, and that he too was baffled by it, since he understood that the commission was likely to support all of the lodgers’ tax board proposals. He said that since the next commission meeting won’t be held until Sept. 26, it’s not likely that an allocation would help defray Fired Up!’s advertising costs.
The two Fired Up! Events for 2011 and 2012 brought hundreds of visitors to Tucumcari’s downtown area, he said.
Sandy Groves, president of the bluegrass association, said no one from the city had notified her about the tabling of the association’s request, but she had “no comment” on Friday.
At its August meeting, in which the advisory board drew up its recommendations for funding, The Lodgers’ Tax Advisory Board had $38,337 available. Approval of the four requests the board recommended would have left the Lodger’s Tax Board with a balance of $9,450.
The board makes recommendations to the city council for allocation of lodgers’ tax funds but actual allocation of those funds requires commission approval. Lodgers’ tax funds must be spent on events and advertising to promote tourism.
The Lodger’s Tax Board also discussed possible procedural changes to improve accountability, when it met in August.