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Guest Commentary: Local Resident Expresses Her Support For Tourism Department

I am writing this as one citizen who attended many of the work sessions and Board Of Aldermen meetings that led to the current 2019 city budget.

As I am not an elected official, nor am I an employee of the city, what I did for the most part was listen and, at times, take notes.

I wanted to know what our elected officials were considering and how they communicated with each other. I often attend County Commission meetings for the same reasons. When I am unable to attend a public city meeting, I usually watch the recorded replay on the SteGenTV website, and read the reports in the Herald and on SunTimesNews online.

Recently, I spent several hours rereading the last four weeks of the Herald’s reporting on various public meetings regarding spending in the city’s budget for tourism. I spent six to seven hours watching recent meetings and work sessions of the Board of Aldermen and the Tourism Tax Commission.

I also spent time reading the 2019 city budget, which is available to the public, and reviewing figures regarding revenue collection and distribution of tax money collected, both in sales and property taxes.

For the past three weeks in the Herald, there have been three separate articles regarding the city’s spending on tourism.

First was reporting of a downtown business owner’s support for the city’s marketing efforts. A guest commentary from a former alderman followed, then an article concerning a citizen’s comments to the Board of Aldermen on May 9.

I am not writing to disparage those people or to dispute their opinions on city spending for tourism. I am writing to show another perspective, that of an ordinary concerned citizen.

Weeks ago, I videotaped, for SteGenTV, the official signing ceremony involving representatives of the National Parks Service, politicians and local dignitaries instrumental in the process leading up to Ste. Genevieve being designated a national historical park. Based on conversations with several different people involved in the process, Ste. Genevieve’s commitment to promoting tourism, as well as the historic preservation of rare colonial-era and early American architecture, were two of the critical factors leading to the approval of the national park designation.

The money to build the Ste Genevieve Museum Learning Center was raised in part because of anticipated growth of tourism in the area.

In my opinion, to grow tourism, it is imperative you make a great first impression on visitors to the area and market our area to travelers in other parts of the state.  The Welcome Center is often a visitor’s first stop, and having dedicated and well-trained staff is essential to make this first conversation a positive one. I do not believe the necessary duties to ensure these things can be done solely by volunteers.

The budget process is complicated and priorities must be determined. The majority of essential services the city pays for do not generate income; tourism does.

At the Board of Aldermen meeting on March 28, I heard the staff report given by tourism director Sandra Cabot regarding state and local tourism data. Her report included the following information:

  • The State of Missouri tracks travel trends and visitor data across the state. The most recent data is from Fiscal Year 2018.
  • At the state level, the total economic impact of tourism is approximately $17.2 billion and has averaged 2.9 percent growth.
  • In Ste. Genevieve County, the total economic impact of tourism as an industry was $33.4 million.
  • Growth in Ste. Genevieve County for the period Fiscal Year 2015 to Fiscal Year 2018 was a gain of 6.5 percent.
  • The Number of jobs in SG county attributed to the tourism industry is approximately 500. Tourism is one of the top five employers in the county.
  • The average “day-tripper” spends $93 per day when traveling more than 50 miles from home for a tourism type activity. The average overnight guest spends $287.
  • The Welcome Center has received between 22,000 to 24,000 guests per year for the past several years.

Just taking a slice of those guests (20,000 people) and using a very conservative figure of only $75 per person (below the “day-tripper” statistical average), then we can assume at least an economic impact in the city of Ste Genevieve of $1,500,000. This is a direct impact on local businesses, an infusion of “new dollars” coming in to the community, and also on local tax dollars collected, which would be $30,000 based on $1.5 million, to use this example.

I have heard and read many thoughts on residents wanting more chain stores and restaurants in our community. It is my understanding that the city leaders in the 1970s made the decision to block Walmart from building in our town.

This decision, which cannot be undone, brought about the expansion of stores into Perryville, Chester (Illinois) and Farmington. I believe there was already a store in Festus at that time. Those communities have larger populations to support expansion of chain stores and restaurants. Perryville, Farmington and Festus also have four lane highways going through them.

Ste Genevieve is a major tourist destination, unlike the surrounding cities. We have historic structures and shops and restaurants that are primarily locally owned.

Now with the national historical park designation, the upcoming opening of the Museum Learning Center and the expansion of the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center, including the water park, we will hopefully gain more visitors, spending more dollars and thus increasing tax revenues.

Several small business owners have told me that a good portion of their revenue comes from tourists. Based on the data, and on personal observation, to cut spending that helps promote tourism makes no sense to me.

The Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff’s Office was able to raise the salaries for deputies due to increased revenue coming from the jail expansion; the city police could not raise salaries in this way, thus Proposition P was proposed and passed by voters.

With the salary increases and generous insurance benefits covering employees, spouses and their families, there should not be difficulty in hiring and retaining quality officers.

Where the money comes from for much-needed repairs to streets and sidewalks needs to be addressed.  

Changes in the process for determining the city budget for Fiscal Year 2020 are being considered. If you have concerns regarding how the city spends money, I urge you to view the 2019 annual budget for the city, which is available at city hall.

Talk to your elected officials. The meetings and work sessions are open to the public. If you can’t attend, you can watch the live stream on Spectrum cable or the recorded version on the SteGenTV website or YouTube channel.

Get involved, your thoughts or ideas are important and may just lead to solutions those elected may not have considered.

Thanks to all of our hardworking city employees and to those who have stepped up to run for office and to  volunteer for positions on the various boards.

Thank you for reading my thoughts, I hope you are inspired to engage in city and county government.

We have much to be proud of living Ste Genevieve.

I choose to look at the positive and to strive to make things better rather than focus on the negative.   

[Gina Bennett is a resident of the city of Ste. Genevieve and promotions volunteer for Ste. Genevieve Community Access Television.]

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