County ends tourism agreement
Published 7:40 pm Wednesday, September 4, 2019
When the LaGrange City Council voted to end its tourism contract with the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce in April and form a new 501©6 in July, those decisions had a ripple effect throughout the county.
Following the decision, the chamber decided to cease operating as a 501©6 covering tourism, and now, Troup County, Hogansville and West Point are all having to consider what the future use of tourism funds will look like for each entity.
“The chamber of commerce has given us notice that they are going to be getting out of the tourism business,” County Manager Eric Mosley said. “They will cancel the contract. What I need from you guys is just an approval to officially end our agreement with the chamber of commerce for management of our hotel/motel taxes for tourism.”
The board of commissioners agreed that the vote was retroactive, taking effect June 30, 2019. Hogansville’s city council voted ended its contract retroactively as well at a meeting in August, and West Point’s city council is expected to discuss the matter at Thursday’s work session.
“Any of those funds that have been collected since July 1 have just been put into a special account holding [them] because there are several restrictions on how those funds can be spent,” County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews said.
Since there is typically some carrier over between fiscal years, the county also expects some of its unused tourism funds that were transferred to the chamber during the 2019 fiscal year to be returned to the county.
“They are in the process of looking through those funds and accounting, and there will be some refund back to the county at some future date for funds that weren’t spent in that last fiscal year,” Crews said. “It won’t be large, but there will be some.”
Those funds would be placed in a designated tourism account until the county signs a contract designating a new organization to make use of tourism funds generated by the hotel/motel tax. It is required by law that the funds be are overseen by a 501© 6 organization, so the next step will be for the county to officially designate an organization to make use of its tourism funds. The LaGrange City Council established Visit LaGrange — which is currently in the process of securing 501©6 status — to manage the city’s tourism funds, and because hotel/motel taxes from LaGrange represent the lion’s share of tourism funds for the county, Troup County may ask the newly formed group if it can manage its funds as well.
“We are required to run those funds through a 501©6,” Crews said. “They are the only 501©6 in town — that I’m aware of when the chamber dissolves theirs — so they have certainly asked us would we like to take our funds and put them in an account with them.”
It is currently unclear what will happen to the tourism funds from the hotel/motel tax in Hogansville, but Crews said that making use of Visit LaGrange may be Troup County’s best option.
“We’re very limited because the law says that the funds have to go through a 501©6, and we just don’t receive enough money,” Crews said. “The county, Hogansville and West Point all together combined probably receive $80,000 annually, and it is just not economically feasible for us to create our own 501©6. So, it is much better for us to find an organization that we can work with.”
For comparison, LaGrange brought in $765,349 in revenue from hotel/motel tax in 2018.
If the county does sign a contract designating Visit LaGrange as the group over spending its tourism funds, the county would still have some say in how its funds are spent, just like it did with the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce’s use of funds in past years.
“Over the years, this money has been instrumental in helping get ball tournaments here, and I want to see that continue,” Commissioner Richard English said.
Mosley said the county would still need to approve a spending plan for the funds, and Crews said that he expects for the county to have a similar level of input on how the funds are spent compared to past years. However, there are some limitations on how the funds can be spent.
“A large percentage of it has to go toward marketing tourism to Troup County, and there is a small bit of money that can go toward product development, which would mean recreation or a building or some capital expense, more or less,” Mosley said.
County Attorney Jerry Willis said that the county would need to sign a contract with Visit LaGrange once it achieves 501©6 status if it wants to designate it as the county’s designated tourism organization.