Polk chooses EDC for tourism services

Published 8:53 am Thursday, May 5, 2011

Polk commissioners voted unanimously on Monday, May 2 to combine the county’s travel and tourism department with its economic development commission (EDC).
The county has discussed who would handle its travel and tourism services over the past few months, most recently narrowing the choices down to combining the services with economic development or giving responsibility for the services to the Carolina Foothills Chamber of Commerce.
The county had a few offers to take on the services in exchange for an estimated $64,000 in occupancy tax funding. In addition to the chamber of commerce and EDC, the Town of Tryon/Tryon Tourism Development Authority (TTDA) also expressed interest in handling the services for the county. The county travel and tourism department also offered to cut the budget or to operate on occupancy tax money only. At one time, the county was contributing approximately $70,000 of general fund monies in addition to the $64,000 in occupancy tax to run the department.
Commissioners also on May 2 approved an EDC implementation team charged with developing the direction of the new, combined department of economic development and tourism and a job description for its director.
Members of the EDC implementation team are:
• Sara Bell, Green River Adventures owner and current travel and tourism board member;
• Pete Bhakta, Days Inn owner;
• Geoff Carey, The Cliffs Senior Corporate Executive;
• Keith Holbert, local businessman;
• Dennis Hill, current EDC member;
• Karen Jones, current EDC member;
• Bob Morgan, Express It owner and current EDC member;
• Ambrose Mills, current EDC chair;
• Max Crowe, banker and current EDC member;
• Commissioner Ray Gasperson; and
• Commissioner Tom Pack.
The implementation team will serve temporarily until details of the new department are worked out, including the role of the EDC board and new director.
Commissioners have not discussed the current travel and tourism director position. However, county manager Ryan Whitson presented on May 2 his recommended budget for the department, with the salary line item for the director reduced to $26,724, including salary and benefits.
This year’s salary and benefit line item was budgeted for $80,076. For most of the year, that amount included funding for the director position as well as a part-time employee. The county eliminated the part-time position earlier this year. Polk County Travel and Tourism Director Melinda Young has held her position since 2006.
Commissioners decided last month to hire an economic development director on a contract basis. The manager’s recommended total budget for economic development for next year is $92,873.
Last year the county decided to eliminate the economic development director position. Economic development services were handled through the county’s volunteer EDC board this year.
Whitson has said he recommended eliminating the position last year for budgetary reasons. On Monday, he said although he budgeted funding for an economic development position per commissioners’ guidance, he remains “skeptical” of the position and is opposed to funding it as he was last year.
Commissioners have scheduled budget workshops next Monday and Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Womack building in Columbus to discuss details on each department’s budget proposals. Commissioners will also hold a budget workshop next Wednesday to hear proposals from each fire department, the Polk County Rescue Squad and Harmon Field Board of Supervisors. Wednesday’s workshop will be held at the Womack building at 6 p.m.

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