The Turlock City Council approved the nearly quarter million dollar Turlock Convention and Visitors Bureau budget on Tuesday amidst questions about why the organization, tasked with bringing tourists to town, needs so much money.
The budget was approved in a 4-1 vote, with council member Amy Bublak casting the sole dissenting vote, once two provisions were added at the behest of council member Stephen Nascimento. Those provisions were that the CVB administration report back to the council within six months with more information on the organization's financials and marketing strategies and the CVB convert its budget from a calendar year schedule to a fiscal year model, which is how the City operates.
Bublak was not the only one perplexed by the $249,235 CVB budget proposal as two former council candidates vocalized concerns not that the organization was unworthy of the funds, but that the amount requested seemed inordinately large.
“The council synopsis is longer than the two pages dedicated for this budget,” Arts, Park, and Recreation Commissioner Sergio Alvarado said, noting the lack of information on why the CVB needs funds. “$250,000 is quite a bit of money. That was five times the amount of money budgeted for roads last year in last year’s budget.”
Alvarado also brought attention to the fact that over half of the budget will “not be seen by taxpayers” because it is allocated to an administration allowance. A portion of the $138,000 administrative allowance includes an event planner position that was added in the past year and is shared amongst the City of Turlock, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Property Owners Association, and CVB.
Council member Forrest White, who has served on two convention and visitors bureau boards in other counties, noted that in order for a city to remain competitive, a robust budget is necessary to bid on projects to bring to the town.
“I can tell you one hundred and some thousand dollars in administrative is cheap,” said White.
According to Bublak, however, the numbers are still significant enough to warrant a closer look, or at least to require the CVB to provide more information.
“As I’m reading this, and I’m looking for results and data and statistical analysis, all I have is expenditure stuff. I don’t have any projections of revenue, what you did the last couple years, what worked, what didn’t work, what we can anticipate in six months, what we can anticipate in a year,” said Bublak. “I’m sure you have it, it’s just not here and if I’m supposed to represent the public at large I need to let them know that I wouldn’t spend $250,000 of my own personal money, or theirs, without knowing what I’m getting for it. And I’m sure they can give us that information — I’m sure they can — but it’s not here.”
According to former CVB budgets, funds for directory and visitors guides, official city maps, and conferences have remained constant over the past few years, but money for various other elements of the CVB’s budget have increased significantly. For instance, the 2013 budget allotted $500 for tours, and the approved 2015 budget allots four times that amount. According to the Assistant to the City Manager for Economic Development and Housing Maryn Pitt, this is the result of a formalization of practices that have been in place for years, such as offering tours to international guests interested in learning more about business and life in Turlock.
While the CVB administrators will return before the council within six months with more detailed information on their budget, Bublak also noted that improvements could be made to optimize funds. For instance, the CVB currently pays $3,000 to the Carnegie Arts Center to distribute information to visitors when the CVB is closed. Bublak proposed dividing this $3,000 between the Carnegie and the new California State University, Stanislaus art gallery downtown, which is open later in the day.
Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Sharon Silva, who oversees the CVB administration, stated that the CVB is undergoing a transitional time and noted that it has evolved since her involvement 16 years ago when Turlock played host to a mere two hotels. As the town has grown, so has the number of hotels, and in turn the Transient Occupancy Tax dollars which is a tax imposed on occupants of individuals who stay at Turlock hotels and motels. These funds are a part of the City’s general fund and allocated to the Chamber as per an agreement. The agreement between the City of Turlock and the Chamber of Commerce as the administration of the CVB is not permanent and can be terminated by either party with or without cause within 90 days of written notice.
"As we grow as a community, then we need to change our Convention and Visitors Bureau and get some things moving in the right direction... Part of the whole effort of the Conventions and Visitors Bureau is about marketing this community," said Silva.