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Averitt Center, others to defend funding at city meeting
Special called meeting is 9 a.m. Monday at Gateway Pond House
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   Three local agencies that contract with the city of Statesboro will describe what they do with their funding during a special called city council meeting Monday morning.
       The Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Downtown Development Authority and the Averitt Center for the Arts will present their marketing plans and submit their budgets for review by the council at the Pond House on Cypress Lake Road Monday starting at 9 a.m.. With steady or slightly increasing expenditures and falling revenues, the council is looking for ways to tighten the city's budget.
      DSDA executive director Allen Muldrew said the meeting is a chance for the three agencies to let the council know about their internal operations.
       "From what I understand, the city council just wants to get a better idea about what each group is doing and what we have planned for the future," Muldrew said. "What we do, how we work as partners, how our office operates - that's what we'll present Monday."
       Councilman Will Britt said each agency will get 30 minutes to make a presentation to the council with a 30 minute question and answer period to follow. Britt said the purpose of the meeting is to find out more information about the operation and expenses of the three agencies so the council can determine if any changes need to be made to how the hotel/motel tax is distributed
      "The Arts Center needs more funding to be able to operate. We must quit transferring money from the general fund to the Arts center especially when there is a mechanism out there to fund it," Britt said. "Plus the DSDA could use a little money for grants and some facades and things like that."
       At the end of March, the council was prepared to raise the hotel/motel tax by one percent, from five to six percent, which was projected to bring an additional $100,000 to the city. However, hotelier Doug Lambert and other local hotel owners appeared at the meeting and encouraged the council to vote down the measure. The motion to raise the tax failed in a 5-0 vote.
      Pat Hirsch, president of the SCVB board, said she is excited about the opportunity to let the council know what the SCVB does for Statesboro.
      "We're just going to present what we do as the convention and visitor's bureau and events we try to bring to Statesboro," Hirsch said. "I think (the council) will be surprised to find out how many events that go on in Statesboro were brought in by the tourism business."
       When the SCVB was formed in 1986, it received 95 percent of the hotel/motel tax. Over the years that percentage has been gradually lowered to its current level of 69 percent as hotel/motel tax revenues increased and previous city councils directed the additional funds to support both the DSDA and the Averitt Center.
       For example, in 2006 the city collected $376,838 from the hotel/motel tax, $301,754 of which was allotted to the SCVB while the DSDA and Averitt Center both received $28,289 and the city transferred $18,506 to the general fund. For the 2010 fiscal year, the city's finance department anticipates $444,130 will be collected from the hotel/motel tax with $306,450 going to the SCVB, $35,530 going to the DSDA and $102,150 going to the Averitt Center.
       Britt said the depressed economy has put a strain on all aspects of the city's budget and that the council is looking at all possible ways to use its revenues more efficiently to benefit city residents.
      "We've got to better learn to use our resources to promote Statesboro and promote tourism," Britt said. "We need to educate ourselves on what the best use of all of the hotel/motel tax, not just a percentage of it. The hotel/motel tax is a city of Statesboro tax to be used for the promotion of tourism, which includes the Arts Center."