Working together to better Troup Co.

Published 2:55 pm Friday, October 12, 2018

On Tuesday night, during a routine city council meeting, a citizen spoke to the LaGrange City Council to air concerns and share frustrations with the current state of the management of LaGrange’s tourism budget. Forest Johnson, a LaGrange native and resident, shared articulate and thorough grievances with the state of the tourism budget, and made what amounted to a public records request for the contract between the city of LaGrange and the organization that oversees the tourism budget, the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce.

The city council responded to Johnson’s claims, assuring him his requests could be met, that they were aware of the concerns he raised and were going to ensure the tourism dollars be spent appropriately.

The tourism budget is an area that has begun to generate more attention in recent years, as the revenue that is generated from the hotel/motel tax in the city continues to increase. With a gradually heightening sense of public interest related to this topic, it is imperative the community have proper information for how the tourism dollars are raised, who oversees the spending of those dollars and why, and what the plan for that revenue is moving forward. It is also imperative that an open, honest and forthright discussion be held between the city council and the chamber, to ensure as much collaboration that can take place, does take place.

The cities of LaGrange, West Point and Hogansville, as well as Troup County, all currently levy an 8 percent tax on revenue generated from hotels and motels within those individual footprints, and the state of Georgia mandates where the revenue collected from that tax can go. Three percent of that 8 percent is retained by the city to help maintain its general operating budget, while the remaining 5 percent is required to be used for tourism. That five percent can be further split, but the entirety of this remaining revenue is required to be used for products to promote tourism.

The LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce has overseen the tourism budget for the City of LaGrange and Troup County since 1991, when both first instituted a hotel/motel tax. The chamber has been overseeing the budget for all four entities since 2017, and handles all of the possible five percent for each. Thanks largely in part to LaGrange’s success in courting hoteliers like Courtyard Marriott and Great Wolf Lodge to the city, the tourism budget has expanded rapidly in recent years. In 2014, the hotel/motel tax generated a respectable $564,253. The budget for fiscal year 2019 projects revenue of $990,775, an increase of approximately 43 percent over a six-year period.

As revenue increases, it is imperative a close eye is kept on how those dollars are spent, to ensure Troup County as a whole is seeing maximum return on that revenue.

It is the duty of the chamber to ensure they have a thorough, comprehensive plan to use those dollars effectively and efficiently, and citizens and the city council are correct to take a close look at those dollars.

It is also critical for both the chamber and the city council to maintain a good working relationship, as the symbiosis of both groups is good for the city. With this in mind, when good and valid questions are raised, we ask the two groups keep an open and honest line of communication.

Address the questions head-on and face-to-face, collaborate on how best to remedy the issues raised to execute the plan created.

When questions arise and are not dealt with in this manner, it is not in the best interest of the city and county we are all striving to better.