Tax board deadlocked on billboards
October 14, 2020
The Tucumcari Lodgers Tax Advisory Board on Wednesday missed a chance to rent five billboards west of Santa Rosa at a low price after a motion to secure them deadlocked in a 2-2 tie.
Concerns from city officials and two board members about being fiscally responsible amid tight budgets during the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately doomed the proposal.
Board member Al Patel presented the three-year contract plan of five billboards 30 miles west of Santa Rosa on Interstate 40 that had been used by Flying C Ranch. The billboards could have been secured for use by Jan. 1 for $200 a month each, plus $75 a month for lighting and a one-time $900 processing fee for each.
“You can’t go wrong” with the deal, Patel said.
The board in previous meetings had discussed securing two additional billboards along Interstate 40 or U.S. 287 for a total of $10,000 a year, tapping from about $40,000 left from the previous fiscal year and promotional funds unspent due to the cancellation of festivals.
City finance director Rachelle Arias and city manager Mark Martinez, along with several board members, agreed the offer was attractive. Martinez added the city was locked into existing billboard contracts with Lamar and Sun Vista for about $45,000 a year, and none of those pacts would expire soon. He urged caution because of the city’s precarious financial condition due to COVID-19.
“It’s a great price, but we have to look at the long-term picture,” Martinez said.
Board Chairman Larry Smith also urged caution because of the pandemic and the fact New Mexico MainStreet’s rebranding effort for the city won’t be finished for several more months. He warned fellow board members to not be “distracted by shiny objects” and maintain focus on re-establishing fundamentals in its tourism marketing.
“It’s hard to know what next year is going to bring,” Smith said. “I’m going to vote ‘no’ because we need to be strategic and careful.”
Board member Lila Doughty, citing financial concerns, said she’d vote “no” against the billboard plan.
Board member Matt Bednorz, who made the motion to recommend accepting the proposal, expressed impatience with the board’s lack of action in the last four months.
“Are we going to sit here and wait for things to happen, or are we going to make things happen?” he said.
Patel voted for the proposal. Board member Mike Castelli was out of town, leaving the motion at a 2-2 tie that failed to advance.
Todd Duplantis, liaison for the Tucumcari City Commission, said he had to balance his desire to secure as many billboards as possible with being fiscally responsible with city money. He also suggested the board be more focused and get concrete cost estimates for proposals at future meetings.
Smith said the rebranding effort should be finished by the end of the year, which should accelerate the implementation of other projects, such as a new visitors guide.
“I just ask for patience,” he said. “We’re almost there.”
In other business:
• Smith said a motion from a special board meeting last month that recommended using part of its $40,000 in leftover funds for Tucumcari Convention Center renovations was partially rendered moot. He said it later was recommended the executive side of the board assume those expenses.
• Bednorz suggested the board vote on giving financial assistance to events on quarterly basis instead of annual. Smith said he was receptive to that idea, and such a setup would lead to less “stressful” decisions.
• Martinez said he would suggest the city hire a full-time marketer or marketing firm to guide the city’s tourism efforts before the end of the year. He didn’t suggest rehiring Sunny505 firm in Albuquerque, which the city elected to not renew its contract earlier this year. Martinez said some of the problems with Sunny505 were because the previous city manager, Britt Lusk, did not convey the board’s concerns to the company.
• Connie Loveland, executive director of Tucumcari MainStreet, said she’d received the previous day a “mood board” from New Mexico MainStreet that showed a blend of nostalgic and Southwest colors of oranges and blues for the rebranding effort. Smith said he was “encouraged” by what the state MainStreet organization presented. Loveland said proposed designs for a new Tucumcari logo would be presented in about two weeks.
• Arias reported lodgers tax receipts in September were $43,311.44, versus $49,748 for the eight-year average. The shortfall is attributed to reduced travel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Martinez said New Mexico Department of Tourism photographers were in town on Friday and Saturday to gather images and video of Tucumcari. He said those assets could help with the city’s marketing.