Budget Work Session For Ste. Genevieve Aldermen Centers On Need To Fund Tourism Department

How to approach the city’s annual budget and the value of paying a full-time professional to lead the city’s tourism efforts were discussed at a Ste. Genevieve Board of Aldermen work session last Thursday prior to the board’s regular meeting.

It was agreed to put off any specific decisions until the new slate of aldermen takes office after the April 2 election.

Much of the debate on tourism’s value to the city took place between two aldermen who are not running for re-election.

Ward 4 Alderman Randy Ruzicka raised questions about the need for spending $246,086 per year on the Welcome Center — a figure that includes the salary of tourism director Sandra Cabot and other employees.

Ward 1 Alderman John Mooney argued in favor of maintaining the proactive tourism program.

Mayor Paul Hassler warned the aldermen to proceed cautiously.

“There’s things you can cut and things you can’t cut,” Hassler said. “I hear it from everybody: ‘Where can we cut? Where can we get money?’ Tourism is always a topic of conversation. It  was a topic of conversation last year for the police department [salary issue], so there again, you can trim that budget, you can take money from there, but I don’t know what’s going to happen downtown. I really don’t want to take the chance … because I’ve seen some pretty blighted and terrible places in my travels.”

Ward 3 Alderman Jimmie Jones was the first to challenge tourism’s position in the budget.

“It wasn’t blighted before it was $200,000 a year, either,” Jones said.

“When I came to town, that was staffed by volunteers,” Ruzicka said. “It wasn’t a full-time paid position. I see no reason why that couldn’t be turned into a not-for-profit organization. Look what the Jour de Fete Committee does: All volunteers, they get donations. It’s a non-for profit and they do a wonderful job. I see no reason why something like that couldn’t be turned into that.”

“I’d be interested in seeing what the downtown tourist district’s sales tax revenues have been, compared to the glory days that he talks about, before money was spent in that direction,” Mooney said. “I would wager — I don’t know this for sure but my gut feeling is — you’ve seen an increase in sales tax revenues in the historic district once tourism started to get more attention.”

City administrator Martin Toma said that  measuring tourism’s direct financial impact is difficult.

“We track a handful of businesses in the downtown area that we know their sales are sensitive to the  tourism business,” he said. “We compare the movement of the tax revenue from those businesses relative to the overall tax, because I had the same question: ‘Is spending this amount of money actually producing a result?’ And I can tell you from having done that the last four or five years that the tourism-sensitive businesses’ tax revenues increase more on a percentage basis than the overall sales tax increase is for any period of time.”

He said he “can’t tell you how many dollars that is,” as far as a specific amount of sales revenue generated.

See complete story in the March 20 edition of the Herald.

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