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Council approves Visit LaGrange budget

For the first time in more than 28 years, the LaGrange City Council approved a tourism budget Tuesday for an agency that was not the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce.

The LaGrange City Council reviewed Visit LaGrange Inc.’s budget during Tuesday’s work session.

The budget listed an estimated $850,000 in income from the hotel/motel tax in the city. The funds legally have to be spent to encourage tourism within the community.

“This represents three and a half out of the eight cents that we collect [for tourism],” LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said.

“Because three cents of the eight go into the general budget of the city — always has, always will — three and a half has to be used for marketing and promotion, which is what Bobby [Carmichael’s] group has been assigned. The other one and a half cents is being banked right now, and at some point that will be available for tourism product development. We cannot spend it on general operations of the city, but we’re holding it for tourism product development, which can be used to fund bricks and mortar. It can be used to fund programming, activity, etc.”

The Visit LaGrange Inc. budget included a breakdown of how the funds will be spent, with $314,500 directed to marketing and advertising alone and an additional $195,000 dedicated to event recruitment.

The budget also listed $84,635.25 for personnel expenses and $28,000 for administrative expenses.

Bobby Carmichael, chairman of the Visit LaGrange Tourism Board, said that the personnel expenses will be different for the next fiscal year, since the newly-formed direct marketing organization will only have a president or assistant for half of the current budget year. Visit LaGrange is currently trying to fill the roles of president and assistant.

The total expenses are budgeted to be $622,135.25, leaving a net income $227,864.75.

For comparison, under the FY19 chamber tourism budget, the five biggest expenses were $300,000 for advertising, $150,000 for sports and tournaments, $125,800 for salaries and wages, $75,000 for the trolley special project and $50,000 for a special project at Boyd Park.

The Visit LaGrange budget under review does not consider tourism product development funds, which are considered separately.

Carmichael also discussed some of the efforts that have already been made, including asking a state group to evaluate what LaGrange needs in terms of tourism at no cost to the city.

“We have asked the tourism product development team from the state to come down to LaGrange in probably about 18 months,” Carmichael said. “They come in for three or four days. They bring a team. They evaluate your tourism products that you’ve got and also help brainstorm on additional products you can provide or have in your community.”

He said that Visit LaGrange is already working to encourage more big-name events such as the annual Bike Ride Across Georgia to come to or through LaGrange. He also spoke briefly on some of the events where Visit LaGrange hopes to promote the city’s tourist features.

Council members Nathan Gaskin, Mark Mitchell and Jim Arrington all spoke favorably on the proposed budget.

“This really gives me great confidence in tourism,” Arrington said. “I have never seen a budget like this, so I appreciate it.”

Visit LaGrange Inc. established its bylaws in August. It has submitted its application to the Internal Revenue Service for 501(c)6 status, and Carmichael said results on the application are expected within the next month or two.

“For years, we’ve done a great job with industrial development, and that’s a huge sector for us, so I think making tourism its own standalone entity is going to shine the light on tourism, and I think we are going to create a whole new sector,” Carmichael said. “Thank you for making the decision to create the new DMO.”