Town makes Discover Columbus group official

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Council’s decision may help volunteer committee receive grant funding

COLUMBUS — After some healthy debate, town leaders officially recognized the Discover Columbus committee as the volunteer organization to promote the Polk County capital.

The Columbus Town Council met Thursday and, after a long debate, approved a resolution recognizing the organization and a policy for the group.

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Columbus Councilman Mark Phillips said the town is asking to acknowledge a committee that already exists. He also said he feels the town is trying to make Discover Columbus a department of the town.

“You want all the occupancy tax designed to go to Discover Columbus, which will not give us discretion of the 50 percent that we have now,” Phillips said. “I’m having trouble trying to figure out how this is not making this a department of the town.”

Councilman Robert Williamson, who is a volunteer with Discover Columbus, said the committee has never been fully established as a town committee. He said he is trying to establish Discover Columbus to give the town its own version of the Tryon Downtown Development Association, the Landrum Area Business Association and the Saluda Business Association, organizations that promote their respective communities.

“You’re asking it to become a department of the town,” Phillips said. “You’re asking us to either accept them as a quasi-department or to accept them as an outside entity to request money. Or you’re opening up a can of worms for organizations to come in every year and ask for money. Each time, I come to the conclusion the objective is to add a department to the town.”

Williamson said the approval will sanction Discover Columbus as other communities around Columbus.

“We think this committee adds value to the town of Columbus,” Williamson said.

Phillips said he does not have a problem with the committee, and appreciates its value, but he has a difficult time with the committee submitting an annual budget.

Williamson said this year, Discover Columbus asked for $6,000 from the town.

Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre explained that Columbus is one of two small towns in the state that has been granted the ability to control its occupancy tax in a different way than other towns. Columbus has the authority to use 50 percent of its occupancy tax for travel and tourism, and can decide how to use the other 50 percent.

Last year, Columbus received approximately $30,000 in occupancy tax, McIntyre said.

Being a small town, Columbus does not have a travel and tourism department like big cities do, the mayor said. He said Discover Columbus is comprised of all volunteers, who do a good job promoting the town.

McIntyre also said town council still has control of where the money goes.

Williams said one of Discover Columbus’ problems is the committee has a hard time applying for grants.

“What we’re asking for is for the town of Columbus to recognize us,” Williamson said, which will help the committee apply for grants to continue to grow.

Phillips said part of his problem is that he feels like the town will be on the hook to fund the committee every year.

Melanie Jennings and Ernie Kan spoke from the audience about how other committees on behalf of towns work.

Jennings was the past president of the LABA, and explained what that committee does for Landrum. She said the volunteers are not employees of the town, and the committee made a community calendar and hosted events for the town. She said the city of Landrum puts an LABA agenda on its council meeting agendas for monthly updates.

“It was a whole lot easier to work together as a group,” Jennings said. “Y’all can’t get out and do what a group of volunteers can do. I would think since y’all don’t have anything except Discover Columbus, y’all would jump on that with both feet.”

Phillips thanked Kan and Jennings for their comments, and said they helped him make his decision more than they realize.

“Now I can see the value in this,” Phillips said. “The merchants have to be involved. If we don’t get merchants involved, this isn’t going to work.”

McIntyre asked town attorney Lora Baker if she saw any language in the resolution and policy that would tie the town as any legal obligation to fund the committee. Baker said there is an obligation for Discover Columbus to prepare a budget, but no obligation for the town to accept what they request.

The council approved the resolution and policy unanimously.

“That’s how it works, guys,” McIntyre said, following the approval.