October 23, 2021

Annual First Light back on

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 is back on, but the future of events such as Chill-A-Bration and The Great Pumpkinfest remain uncertain.

After Thursday’s decision by the county Legislature to give Cortland Downtown Partnership $5,000 in occupancy tax funding — originally intended to be zero — and sponsorship from McNeil and Co. Inc., First Light is able to continue, said Adam Megivern, Cortland Downtown Partnership director. McNeil and Co. officials could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

However, the $5,000 allocated to the partnership by the Legislature is a 75 percent decrease from the $20,000 in occupancy tax the organization received last year.

“Future events and Cortland Downtown Partnership staffing remain in jeopardy,” Megivern said in a statement.

Other partnership events include Chill-A-Bration, Taste of Downtown, Cortland Main Street Music Series, The Great Cortland Pumpkinfest, The Downtown Living Tour and the Cortland County Halloween Parade.

Chill-A-Bration is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 23, but the event’s status is pending additional community and business support, Megivern said.

Megivern could not be reached for further comment on how much more funding is needed. The partnership had requested $45,000 in occupancy tax.

When the Occupancy Tax Allocation Committee first recommended allocations to tourism-related agencies and events, the partnership was recommended to receive no funding.

The committee’s reasoned the partnership had requested funding for four events that separately submitted for occupancy tax allocations, and funding for any event or festival should be given directly to the event.

Also, the partnership requested the funding be used to support a digital marketing manager. The committee did not recommend supporting the position.

The Cortland Main Street Music Series will get $2,000 and The Great Cortland Pumpkinfest will get $3,000.

Occupancy tax is meant to be used for marketing only. It is generated by people staying overnight in hotels and motels in Cortland County.

The allocation committee prefers the allocations go to attractions, events and programs that drive overnight or multiday stays in Cortland County, Meghan Lawton, executive director for the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and member of the allocation committee, has said.

Eighteen agencies and events that applied for funding saw a cut this year; four saw the same funding and one new agency was funded.

There was only $500,000 in occupancy tax to distribute this year, down $70,000 from previous years, and agencies made requests totaling $737,000, Lawton has said.

Last week, after the partnership was first recommended to receive no funding, Megivern had announced the New Year’s Eve celebration would be canceled, along with all other partnership-managed events.

Since then, the allocation committee reviewed its distribution and ended up recommending the partnership get $5,000.

Megivern credits “the overwhelming public outcry over the cut” for the increase.

This year’s New Year’s Eve experience will include firedancing performance artists, the traditional clock tower countdown and ball drop followed by a fireworks display, Megivern said.