When the COVID-19 pandemic led to worldwide shutdowns, the tourism industry was hit hard. Now, county legislators are considering providing federal COVID funding to reimburse the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau for money lost in 2020.
People stopped traveling and many hotel properties were forced to close, said Meghan Lawton, executive director of the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Without overnight guests, hotels and motels were unable to collect occupancy taxes. Cortland County saw a $279,030 drop in occupancy tax receipts from 2019 to 2020, reports the county.
The Finance and Administration Committee voted without opposition to send to the full Legislature a plan to provide additional funding to the publicity and tourism budget using American Rescue Plan funding. Legislators Sandra Price (D-Harford, Virgil) and Christopher Newell (U-Cortlandville) were absent Tuesday.
“Tourism was the hardest hit industry by the pandemic worldwide,” Lawton said. “Any dollars that can support the local tourism industry and allow both the CVB and our not-for-profit tourism partners to continue to market — especially as the world begins to reopen — is money well spent.”
The American Rescue Plan allows for an additional 4.1% funding reimbursement for the lost revenue.
“The way this works, there’s a two-year lag from when we collect the occupancy tax and when we distribute it. So, 2020’s money will be distributed in 2022,” said County Administrator Rob Corpora.
The full Legislature will consider Aug. 26 whether to authorize a total of $290,470.32 added to the 2022 publicity and tourism budget.
“The potential for this funding stream to be made whole by the American Rescue Plan monies is something that the CVB supports and greatly appreciates,” Lawton said.
Money from the occupancy tax can be spent on promotions — advertising, media campaigns and similar efforts — but not the operations of the agencies organizing the events.
Committee Chairman George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer) asked how the occupancy tax money is spent, and whether the ARP funding would include the cost of mandatory audits.
Finance Director Andrea Herzog said she will provide the legislators with a list of how the visitors bureau spent the occupancy tax money in 2020 and so far in 2021 before the Legislature meeting next week.
“The way this works with the American Rescue Plan money is that it includes the 10%,” Corpora said, referring to the percentage budgeted for auditing and administrative fees. “It takes the amount we’re getting from ARP, plus the amount that we actually collected, plus 10% of that total — this is what we distribute.”
The committee also voted, 4-1, in favor of signing an annual contract to provide the visitors bureau with public benefits services, such as the occupancy tax funds and money from the American Rescue Plan funding. Legislator Richard Stock (DCortland) voted no.
The state’s Tourism Promotion Act requires each state to designate one organization as its official tourism promotion agency. The committee voted, 4-1, in favor of designating the visitors bureau as Cortland County’s official tourism promotion agency. Stock again voted no.
“The designation aligns our organizations with I Love NY, the official tourism promotion agency for the state,” Lawton said. I Love NY requires county legislatures to re-designate their official agency by resolution each year.
“We look forward to continuing the work we have always done — promoting the tourism assets of this great county to those that do not live here,” Lawton said. “We are especially anxious and excited to continue our work as the world begins to reemerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.”