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Goodbye Chill-A-Bration, Pumpkinfest and First Light?

Cuts in tourism funding threaten Cortland cultural events

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Snow flies by the clocktower on New Year's Eve in December 2016. An annual New Year's celebration in downtown Cortland has been canceled in response to a proposed cut in occupancy tax funding for the Cortland Downtown Partnership.

Cortland County’s New Year’s Eve celebration has been canceled this year, and several more events next year such as Chill-A-Bration and The Great Pumpkinfest will be as well, according to the Cortland Downtown Partnership.

The partnership along with several other tourism-related agencies and events have been recommended to either receive no funding or less funding than requested for next year from Cortland County’s annual distribution of occupancy tax.

The Budget and Finance Committee has already endorsed the recommendations. The full Legislature will consider them Thursday.
“Hopefully it is an oversight,” Cortland Downtown Partnership Director Adam Megivern said of the proposed cuts. “That would be crippling if true.”

Click here for the agencies and what they requested

The partnership requested $45,000 from the county, and was recommended by the county’s occupancy tax allocation committee to receive nothing. Last year, the partnership received about $20,000.

In a written statement, Megivern said the cut in funding would eliminate events, such as Chill-A-Bration, Taste of Downtown, Cortland Main Street Music Series, The Great Cortland Pumpkinfest, The Downtown Living Tour, the Cortland County Halloween Parade and First Light.

The cut in funding would force the organization to cut staffing and eliminate marketing for independent events and downtown activities, he added.

Reason for recommendations

“This gentleman (Megivern) has the wrong idea of occupancy tax,” said Budget and Finance Committee Chairman George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer), who sat on the occupancy tax allocation committee and helped put together the county’s 2019 tentative budget.

The committee tried to allocate funding specifically to organizations and events that bring people into the county who stay overnight, Wagner said. The Downtown Partnership was not one of them.

“I see no reason to give bed tax (occupancy tax) to people not bringing people in to stay (in the county),” Wagner said.

The county’s occupancy tax is paid by guests at hotels and motels in Cortland County to fund tourism marketing. Cortland County keeps 10 percent of it for administration fees and distributes the rest to tourism agencies and events that apply for it.

There was $500,000 in occupancy tax available to distribute — a decrease of more than $70,000 that was available last year. Wagner said that is because the Ramada Inn in Cortland has gone into receivership and owes the county about $72,000 in occupancy tax.

The county will eventually get that funding, Wagner said, but it doesn’t know when.

When the county does get it, the extra funding will be distribute it to the tourism agencies and events — those that bring people who stay overnight in the county.

The Cortland Downtown Partnership has stewarded more than $17 million in grants to better Cortland’s downtown, Megivern said.

“Without direct marketing support to the downtown, this work was in earnest, the organization will dissolve and tourism and hospitality can be added to the list of failed industries in Cortland County,” Megivern said in his statement.

While the partnership itself was not recommended to receive funding, a couple of the events Megivern said would be canceled did.
However, the organization runs most of them and if it dissolves, so do the events.

More zero funding
The Cortland Main Street Music Series and The Great Cortland Pumpkinfest each requested $5,000. The music series was recommended to receive $2,000, while the Pumpkinfest was recommended to receive $3,000.

Along with the partnership, the Cortland YMCA, Holiday in Homer and Homer Winterfest were also recommended to not receive occupancy tax funding.

“The (occupancy tax allocation) committee had to look at everything, process on an individual basis, they looked at every application,” said Meghan Lawton, executive director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau and member of the allocation committee.

Organizations that applied for the funds had to be a 501(c)(3) agency, Lawton said, and some were not — including the Homer Winterfest.

“The biggest thing was that it was $70,000 less we were looking at, so pretty much everyone across the board was facing some sort of cuts,” Lawton said.

The YMCA had requested $2,000 to promote the 2019 Cortland Triathlon, but the committee recommended providing no funding, saying the event’s sponsorships and registrations should cover the advertising.

Holiday in Homer had requested $3,200 for advertising, but the committee said the event did not request funding last year, yet it still happened, so no funded was recommended for next year.

Further recommendations
Some other organizations like the Cortland County Historical Society and the Lime Hollow Nature Center were recommended to receive less than half of what they requested.

Glenn Reisweber, executive director, of Lime Hollow, said he knows the county is under fiscal pressure, but he is disappointed with the recommendation. Lime Hollow had requested $30,000, and was recommended to get $12,000.

The cut in funding will make it harder to provide services, he said. He would have to look at the center’s budget to see how he can adjust, but said there would probably be less advertising — meant to promote tourism and bring people in.

One option he and other organizations may look into is working with the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau to explore ways of promoting the agencies and events. The bureau is recommended to get $227,000 — it requested $250,000.

The Cortland County Historical Society had requested $35,000 and was recommended to get $10,000.

“We’re definitely concerned,” said Mindy Leisenring, director of the historical society.

The cut in funding, would “drastically cut advertising” for the society, she said. It would have to rethink how it advertises, possibly using social media more.

Leisenring said she plans to attend the special Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday, where the county’s 2019 proposed budget will be reviewed.

Wagner said organizations will have the chance to comment if they feel they need more funding during the meeting.

The Budget and Finance Committee has already endorsed the recommendations. The full Legislature will consider them Thursday.

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