December 2, 2021

Groups get some funds

Occupancy tax allocation down about $70,000

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland Downtown Partnership director Adam Megivern addresses the Cortland County Legislature Thursday prior to a budget vote at the County Office Building.

Adam Megivern, executive director of the Cortland Downtown Partnership, is still unsure whether $5,000 allocated to the partnership will be enough to plan for certain events in the downtown setting like Chill-A-Bration and the Great Pumpkinfest.

The statement followed a meeting of the Cortland County Legislature where the Legislature approved the distribution of funding collected through the county’s occupancy, tax giving the partnership $5,000, down from $20,000 it was allocated last year, but up from the original zero funding recommended by the occupancy tax allocation committee two weeks ago.

“I have to be brutally honest, when we initially heard all of our funding was cut it was devastating,” Megivern said during a public hearing Thursday. “I thank you for reconsidering that and as I understand it there is potential for some of the funding to be put back into place.”

Megivern also added that something good came from the whole deal. “Hearing from so many people how important these events are; how much of an impact it has on quality of life for our residents and those who are thinking about visiting and those who are thinking about potentially living here,” he said.

The Legislature approved the distribution unanimously Thursday night. Legislators Thomas Hartnett (D-Cortland) and Mary Ann Discenza (D-Cortland) were absent.

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 and distributes the rest to tourism agencies and events.

The county has $500,000 to allocate this year, about $70,000 less than the county had last year.

The loss in funding is because the Cortland Ramada Inn went into receivership and owed the county about $72,000 in occupancy tax. Budget and Finance Committee Chairman George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer) said the county will eventually get that money back.

When it does, the $72,000 will be distributed to the tourism-related agencies and events.

The occupancy tax allocation committee received requests totaling $737,000 from the various agencies and events for funding, Meghan Lawton, executive director for the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and member of the occupancy tax allocation committee, has said.

“I think it’s reasonable to look at this from an investment point of view,” said Tom Terwilliger, owner of the Red Jug Pub in Cortland, at a public hearing before the vote. “I can speak for many of my comrades in the industry and say that we know from the events and all of the associations and organizations funded by this money that we consider it to be a good investment.”

The money is meant to support attractions that draw people to the community.

The meeting drew a packed crowd that included Megivern; Benjamin Sandberg, director of the 1890 House Museum; Glenn Reisweber, executive director of Lime Hollow Nature Center; and Mindy Leisenring, director of the Cortland County Historical Society.

1890 House director Ben Sandberg, left, and Megan Eves of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, right, watch as the Cortland County Legislature votes Thursday.

The Legislature’s Budget and Finance Committee endorsed the revised occupancy tax allocations during a special meeting before the full Legislature.

The allocation committee prefers the allocations go to attractions, events and programs that drive overnight or multiday stays in Cortland County, Lawton said during the special committee meeting. “If we have no one staying overnight in our properties, we have no occupancy allocation whatsoever,” she said.

The occupancy tax funds are meant to solely be used for marketing, Lawton said.

The occupancy tax allocation committee took another look at the allocations and decided to cut $2,000 from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and $3,000 from the Central New York Maple Festival — to bring them more in line with cuts made to the other agencies, Lawton said.

The $5,000 taken from the two was then recommended to go to the Cortland Downtown Partnership — which was originally recommended to receive no funding.

The Cortland YMCA, Homer Winterfest and Holiday in Homer were also originally recommended to receive no funding, but Lawton said the Convention and Visitors Bureau will assist in marketing their events.

Megivern said the partnership board will review what it can do with the $5,000 — versus the $20,000 that it received last year.

It may mean fewer events next year, he said.

However, he said he hopes there will be more interest from the community and businesses in sponsoring events.

In a previous 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.