Roughly $80,000 of grant funding is available through the 2015-2016 Community Event and Activities Grant Program, a new service the City is executing as it has taken over administering the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In February, the Turlock Chamber of Commerce terminated the contract to execute the CVB, an organization taxed with bringing tourists to town. Since then the City of Turlock has taken on various services including administering grant money the City receives from the Transit Occupancy Tax, or money generated when visitors stay in local hotels. Since several organizations had already submitted their application to the Chamber requesting grant money, in March the Turlock City Council awarded the task of deciding which organizations would receive the funds to the Parks, Arts, and Recreation Commission.
This task was formerly performed by a CVB advisory board which would give recommendations to the Chamber for final approval. A similar model is being utilized by the City as the PARC provided recommendations to the Council at their April 28 meeting to fund the following committees their requested amounts: $8,000 for 4th of July Fireworks at California State University, Stanislaus; $3,000 for the 4th of July Patriotic Parade; $5,000 for the Turlock Community Theater; $3,000 for the Stanislaus County Fair; $3,500 for the 2015 Monster Truck Spring Nationals; $5,000 for the 2015 Central Valley Brewfest; and $2,500 for the 2015 Central Valley Vinofest.
While the council unanimously ratified the PARC’s recommendation, the April 8 PARC meeting where the event coordinators made their case for the funding was fraught with uncertainty amongst the commissioners as evidenced by their post-presentation discussion. Questions included not only the source of the grant money, but what the commissioners were expected to use as a guide when judging whether the events were worthy of the funding requested.
Commissioner Lakneshia Diaz asked “Is this a use it or lose it type of thing?” in regards to awarding the funding and Commissioner Larry Yeakel voiced concerns over whether the commission was the best judge as far as moderating amounts.
“I haven’t heard anything about trying to meet, match or have money left over and I haven’t to this point judged it anywhere on that premise,” said Yeakel.
Parks, Recreation, and Public Facilities Director Allison Van Guilder explained to the PARC that the funding being applied for was collectively less than the amount available, roughly $45,000, and commissioners possessed the authority to decide if they wanted to modify the amount requested by decreasing or increasing it.
Commissioner Brent Bohlender also noted that facts applicants used to make their case were not necessarily verifiable.
“The ambiguity of hotel rooms… there were estimates that ranged from 40 to 80 to 75 to 60. It was so off and all over the place. Again I understand ‘estimate’ but there has to be a way to measure it,” said Bohlender, who suggested hotels ask visitors what brings them to Turlock. This way the city would have a tool to quantify the value of the events.
While the PARC is familiar with cultural events, historically the commissioners have not played such an integral role in handling funding said Van Guilder.
“To their credit, they really wanted to do the best and most thorough analysis. I think it was just there were some gaps there in terms of their understanding of the process,” said Van Guilder. “I think it was a new role for them to get involved with, but honestly I think it enhances their value and their role in the community. It gives them another responsibility to manage and I think they are a good source to vet these issues because most of these events are obviously very community related and cultural.”
The discussion at the April 8 PARC meeting was the impetus behind the City’s interest in revamping the Community Event and Activities Grant Program to be more reflective of how things will operate in the future under the city’s charge.
“Some of the confusion that occurred at the meeting we tried to address through the application process so that some of that would be a little clearer to the commission,” said Van Guilder.
This includes making the criteria for the commission’s judging more explicit as well as adding a follow up report for applicants that receive funds, the goal of which is to assess how effective the funds were.
“It reaffirms how the funds were used and it speaks to whether or not the event actually achieved the goal of promoting Turlock, putting heads in beds, and things of that nature,” said Van Guilder.
Van Guilder said that now that the City has the opportunity to see the entire process all of the way through, she thinks the PARC will be more comfortable with the authority bestowed upon them when they next evaluate the grant applications.
Applications for the 2015-2016 funding cycle are now available through June 1 in order to sync up the Community Event and Activities Grant Program with the city’s fiscal year. The PARC commissioners will evaluate the applications at the June 10 meeting and their recommendations will come before the Turlock City Council at their June 23 meeting.