By DOTTY NIST
Priorities for funding various events and the philosophy behind sponsorship grants were discussed by South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) members at a recent workshop.
The workshop took place on May 31 in the TDC conference room.
The TDC provides funding for special events taking place in Walton County that attract overnight guests from outside the county. Examples of these events are festivals, sporting events, and concerts. Events selected for sponsorship are funded through the council’s New Product Development account, which is filled by the third “cent” collected in bed taxes. Safety and lifeguard services are also funded through this account.
A total of 21 events are being recommended for TDC sponsorship grants in the 2012-13 fiscal year at a total cost of $425,000. Up to $50,000 in sponsorship grant funding is being recommended for some events.
Sponsorship grant funding may be used only for promotion of the event outside of the county and for internet web sites to increase participation, attendance and awareness of the event and generate overnight visitation. A memorandum of agreement (MOA) is signed with each sponsorship grant recipient setting out the use of money awarded. Funding is not provided in advance but only in reimbursement of expenses as documented by receipts.
Eligible events are required to submit an application. Applications are first evaluated by a panel of TDC staff members and consultants. Applications meeting funding criteria are subject to approval by tourism council members and then by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC).
At the May 31 workshop, TDC members reviewed current grant sponsorship policies with regard to any changes they would recommend to the policies for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
TDC staff member Kelli Carter suggested that the MOA for events specify that all county ordinances must be followed for an event. TDC Executive Director Dawn Moliterno said she would have TDC legal counsel research how this requirement could be written into the MOA and how “teeth” could be put into the agreement in this regard.
The point system by which the panel ranks sponsorship grant applications was discussed. Moliterno noted that events that will take place during the “shoulder season” may receive up to 25 points as compared with in-season events, which receive up to 15 points. The shoulder season is considered to be the time between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
TDC member Steve Hilliard suggested deducting points for events that take place during spring break. “It makes no sense for us to fund anything during spring break,” he said. On the other hand, Hilliard was in favor of giving extra points for events taking place in December or January due to the need to attract more tourists during those months.
Hilliard also urged for information on the number of room nights resulting from each event to be provided to TDC members as they consider which events to fund through sponsorship grants. He also suggested a separate rating for each event based on room nights driven by the event.
TDC member Amy Wise-Coble was concerned about instances of two similar events taking place the same weekend and both receiving funding. Moliterno suggested looking at a limit on funding provided for any one weekend.
“How long should we continue to fund something?” Hilliard asked.
Originally, sponsorship grant funding was considered “seed money” to help events get started, with the goal of the events becoming self-sufficient.
Hilliard was concerned that if the TDC continued to provided substantial funding for existing events, money that could be made available to get new events started and others expanded would be depleted.
Moliterno said the same concerns had occurred to her, but that when discussing them with organizers of large existing events, “I was asked, are we trying to punish them for being successful?”
“This is a gift;” Hilliard responded, “this is not an entitlement program.”
Moliterno suggested adding some “intent language” to the program emphasizing its purpose of “incubating” and “growing” events with the goal of having them become strong enough to sustain themselves financially.
The meeting was concluded with Moliterno pledging to incorporate the TDC members’ comments into draft policy for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The draft policy will undergo consideration by the tourism council in regular session and then by the BCC.