Serving the High Plains

City votes to end contract with Sunny505

The Tucumcari City Commission voted Thursday to end the city’s contract with Sunny505, an Albuquerque advertising and marketing firm, after the recommendation of the city’s lodgers tax board.

The commission voted 4-1 to drop the contract, with District 4 Commissioner Chris Arias voting “no” and Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield reluctantly voting “yes,” to support the advice of the lodgers tax board.

City manager Britt Lusk defended Sunny505's performance, saying its efforts had resulted in significant growth in gross receipts tax and lodgers tax revenues during its two-year involvement with the city.

In 2019, Lusk said, lodgers tax receipts increased by 7% from 2018 collections. Over 10 years, he said, lodgers tax receipts have increased by 38%.

On Feb. 3, the Tucumcari Lodgers Tax Advisory Board unanimously voted to recommend the city commission not renew its contract with Sunny505, citing long-simmering dissatisfaction with the company.

The board also unanimously recommended the city not put out a request for proposals for a new marketing firm. Instead, board Chairman Larry Smith suggested the formation of a local tourism committee that would report to the board and city commission. The committee, Smith said, would “get back to basics” on its tourism efforts and try to form a more cohesive brand for the city.

The lodgers tax board complained that billboards that used the New Mexico True branding rendered the word “Tucumcari” too small to be seen by interstate highway drivers.

Further, board members complained, Sunny505 efforts favored First Street lodgings over those along Route 66, and singled out one motel and one restaurant, when there are others in town.

On Thursday, Lusk reminded the commission that Sunny505 “works to market the city,” not the lodgers tax board

By emphasizing a very well-known motel and restaurant in the city, Lusk said, Sunny505's advertising was a benefit.

“We have to play to our strengths,” he said.

Individual businesses, he said, still are responsible for their marketing efforts.

Arias defended Sunny505 for making heavy use of online media.

“Back in the 1980s,” he said, “we didn’t have the technology that that Sunny505 is using.”

“We can’t afford to put all our eggs in one basket,” he added, referring to billboard advertising.

Duplantis countered by saying the city should use its citizens for marketing.

“They love this place,” he said. “You can promote your home better than your neighbor can.”

At a public work session before Thursday’s regular meeting, Andrea Lawrence, a marketing specialist for the New Mexico Department of Tourism, told the commission Quay County’s tourism industry had increased by $1.5 million over five years. Tourism jobs had increased by 5.8% over the same period, and tourism and related jobs in Tucumcari accounted for $32.2 million in payrolls.

Lawrence said the department has matched more than the one-to-one spending in the county, she said.

“It’s more like 1.14 to 1, “ she said.

County advertising, she said, focuses on images.

“If you don’t have an image on Craigslist,” she said, “you get nowhere.”

The focus then is on videos. A web page promoting Quay County on the New Mexico True site, she said, has garnered 207,000 impressions at a cost of about 17 cents per impression.

In addition, she said, about 80 percent of the visitors spend 15 seconds or more on the site, indicating it got their attention.

Even without Sunny505, she said, the city could take advantage of advertising grants offered through New Mexico True.

In other business, the commission:

• Authorized the Tucumcari Senior Citizen Center to apply for the ability to hire drivers who can give seniors rides to services, then help them when they arrive there, along with its current services that include meal programs and current transport services.

The commission voted to authorize the senior center to file a response to a request for proposals (RFP) from the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department that includes the enhanced ride services.

In the RFP response, the senior citizen center is seeking to provide nearly $327,188 in services, financed through the aging and long-term services department, according to filing documents.

The senior center compiles such an RFP every two years to the state department.

Clara Rey, director of the Tucumcari senior center, told the commission the new “assistive transportation” position would allow the person who transports a senior to a grocery store or a doctor’s appointment to help a senior with the groceries or medical needs while at the location.

“We hear horror stories all the time,” Rey said.

She told the story of a senior who drove to Amarillo for an eye appointment who drove himself home with dilated pupils.

According to Rey, the senior told her to get home with impaired vision, he “found a semi and followed it” to get home, which was “dangerous for him and all others on the road.”

• Discussed an allegation an unlicensed handyman had done work at Tucumcari’s main fire station. Todd Smith, a Tucumcari construction worker, had complained the person doing work on the fire station was not licensed.

Lusk said the handyman doing work at the fire station was an employee of a licensed contractor who was hired for the job.

• Voted to appoint Renee Brown, Kasey Farren and Nolita Anaya to the city’s library advisory board.

Asked by Duplantis about capital outlay requests at the New Mexico Legislature, Lusk noted state Sen. Pete Campos had applied for $250,000 for Tucumcari to purchase a machine for fixing potholes. Lusk also said Campos had asked for capital outlay for the Princess Theater, which Moya said was for $2.5 million.

Lusk said he hoped these unexpected capital outlay requests would not interfere with the city’s request for $550,000 to help with repairs on the city’s wastewater treatment system.

Moya said Campos’ request for the pothole-repair device derived from a work session Dec. 5 that Campos attended, in which potholes received a lot of discussion.

Campos’ senatorial district includes a corner of Tucumcari’s north side.

To explain the Princess Theater request, Moya said state legislators are allowed to seek funding for projects they choose, in addition to those proposed by local governments.

Lusk said he had not heard what capital outlay projects state Sen. Pat Woods or state Rep. Jack Chatfield were proposing.

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