• September 29, 2016

Council tourism turnover threatens community events

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Posted: Friday, September 23, 2016 4:30 am

Starting in fiscal year 2017, a number of community events previously put on or sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce may no longer be in existence after the dissolution of an agreement between the city and the chamber disbursing hotel occupancy tax funds to help pay for the chamber’s tourism-related events.

Some tourism-related events paid for by HOT funds in the past will be at the mercy of the city budget with the termination of the city and chamber’s most recent HOT fund agreement Oct. 31.

The city disbursed more than $117,000 worth of HOT funds to the chamber for the last fiscal year, but the city and chamber have chosen to end their marketing agreement after a lengthy struggle over the chamber’s mismanagement of the funds, which was confirmed in the report of an audit approved by the city on the chamber’s financial controls. The chamber will receive no HOT funds this coming fiscal year.

Now that the city will not disburse HOT funds to the chamber, the city Parks and Recreation Department has mulled taking over some tourism-related events and tourism promotion while the chamber will focus on member-oriented events in the future, while still putting on the Rabbit Fest, Krist Kindl Markt and Gallop or Trot 5k in the future because they are more profitable and well attended.

So far, the City Council has budgeted for the disbursement of $105,353 for advertising and tourism events in fiscal year 2017 to the Parks and Recreation Department, but there are some notable absences from the city’s and chamber’s lists so far.

The council voted to approve the new budget Tuesday.

Here are the events that might be left in the lurch this fiscal year.

Rabbit Fest Pageant

The Rabbit Fest Pageant has been one of the most visible jewels in Cove’s community event crown, largely through the efforts of the pageant’s organizers and the tireless appearance schedule and community service of its winners — the Rabbit Fest royalty.

The pageant is part of the larger annual Rabbit Fest event in May, the biggest community event and tourist draw in the city, and was reinstated in 2014 at the request of former chamber President Betty Price after nearly 20 years of absence, according to Wendy Sledd, the public information officer with the Cove school district and the pageant’s executive director.

The pageant has counted more than 400 contestants in the past three years, including 116 contestants in the most recent pageant, according to Sledd. That number qualifies it as the largest pageant event in the state.

In August 2015, the pageant was named one of the top three new events in the state by the Texas Fairs and Events Association. The pageant’s 18 competitive categories crown male and female contestants in baby to senior age groups.

The pageant winners maintain a rigorous appearance schedule at regional events and perform mandatory community service, which has totaled more than 800 hours since the last crowning May 16 and over 10,000 hours since the 2014 pageant, Sledd said.

Because of this commitment to service, the royalty was named the Temple Parks and Recreation Volunteer Group of the Year in 2015 — a notable honor considering the Rabbit Fest royalty is composed of Cove residents.

Three pageant winners were designated Incredible Kids by the Texas Youth Coalition in 2015.

In light of the termination of the chamber and city’s marketing agreement, the pageant was cut by the chamber and remains without a home by the city or the chamber, despite the fact it is completely self-funding, Sledd said.

The pageant’s organizers said they are trying to work with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to sponsor the event in 2017.

“Since being notified that the chamber wished to dissolve the Copperas Cove Rabbit Fest Pageant, I have begun the process and have had correspondence with the Copperas Cove Parks and Recreation Department regarding it assuming the pageant process,” Sledd said. “Parks and Recreation by no means has adopted this process, but are certainly working to figure out a solution that works for everyone.”

Bike race events

The chamber annually sponsors two separate cycling events: The Megan Baab Classic-Road Race in Cove in January and the 2-Day State Champion Road Race at Fort Hood in September.

This year’s 2-Day State Champion Road Race begins Saturday.

According to The Racing Posts’ Editor Andy Hollinger, a longtime organizer and co-founder of the two events, the city is not interested in supporting the races in the coming fiscal year.

In the past, the chamber offered the races administrative and logistical support, as well as large cash donations and considerable financial support.

For the Megan Baab race alone, the chamber covered free access to the Visitors Bureau, free access to portable toilets, volunteers in lead and follow cars during the race, 15 volunteers on average per year to manage racer sign-in and race organization, 200 to 300 orange road cones, and two policemen to monitor the beginning and end of the race.

In return, the races bring up to 2,000 cyclists into Cove motels and restaurants, a tourism boon that Hollinger estimates to be valued at upward of $100,000 to the city annually.

Both bike events cost the chamber $10,093 in 2015.

The chamber chose not to sponsor the two events in the future because the various costs associated with the events exceeded $20,000 and the arrangement of volunteers had become too cumbersome, according to chamber President Sean Corrigan.

But when Hollinger reached out to the Parks and Recreation Department about the city matching the chamber’s sponsorship of the races, the city responded with a “no thanks.”

Without support from the city, the two races would have to pay for services that were previously covered by the chamber. Paying those bills, Hollinger said, might make Cove an unfeasible location for future races.

“Will there be a bike race in Cove next year? I can’t tell you that,” Hollinger said. “But if Lampasas or Harker Heights are interested, great. But for Cove, without (the Visitors Bureau) why would I do it there?”

The current entry fee for the Megan Baab race is $35 and the 2-Day State Championship is $50 — already the steepest entry fee for any race in the state. When asked if the events would consider raising the entry fees to cover the cost, Hollinger said that wasn’t likely.

“I could raise them,” he said. “But the more you raise the fee, the less racers that show up.”

Other events

The chamber has said they will continue to host the annual Rabbit Fest, sans pageant, in May and the Krist Kindl Markt, which has already been scheduled for December.

At a July 28 council workshop, City Manager Andrea Gardner informed the council that the budget cannot accommodate a slew of races: The Jackrabbit Run, the Summer Fun to Run and the Tough Cookie Duathlon. The chamber has said they will continue to host the Gallop or Trot 5k in the future.

Events that have long been sponsored by the city itself will remain on the budget, including the Tree Lighting Ceremony and the Polar Bear Swim, as well as new events like the Fall Festival and the most expensive of the bunch, the Food Truck Festival, which is budgeted at $18,919.

In a presentation to the council on June 7, Parks & Recreation Director Joe Brown said many of the city’s events could be turned into regional events that could draw large numbers of tourists with greater funding.

Indeed, the city has budgeted to drastically increase the funding for city events, using nearly $50,000 of the city’s HOT funds budget for the new or previously sponsored events.

The 2015 Tree Lighting Ceremony, for instance, cost the city $1,301.58. The budget for the 2016 Tree Lighting Ceremony is $12,062.72 — an 827 percent increase.

The 2016 Polar Bear Swim in January cost the city $784.00. The 2017 event is budgeted at $5,254.00.

All together, the city is planning to cut $27,674.25 worth of tourism-related events previously sponsored by the chamber, according to the fiscal year 2016 expense reports from the chamber.

That figure does not include the Rabbit Fest Pageant, the costs of which were mingled with the larger Rabbit Fest in expenditure reports.

Along with the proposed cuts, the city has budgeted a new position in the Parks and Recreation Department, the activities and events coordinator, who will manage and oversee the creation and management of tourism-related events in the city.

The proposed salary for this position is $33,280.

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