Commission cuts funding for libraries, parks

HMTaxChartThe Pocahontas County Commission didn’t take much time to decide how to provide hotel/motel tax money to two more groups in 2015. Following a recommendation by Commissioner Jamie Walker, the Commission simply cut all other groups by one or two percent. Among the groups getting cuts in funding were Pocahontas County Free Libraries and Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation.

During its meeting on January 20, the Commission allocated the county hotel occupancy tax (“hotel/motel tax”) proceeds for the coming year. During fiscal year 2014, the county received $1.46 million from the tax. State law dictates that 50 percent of all tax proceeds must be given to the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). A maximum of $200,000 can be given to hospital, fire and EMS organizations. The remainder can be distributed only to organizations or purposes that are related to tourism, such as parks, historic sites, art groups and beautification projects. Last year, the Commission allocated $25,000 to a courthouse building maintenance fund – the “bricks and mortar” fund.

Last year, the Commission funded five groups with the discretionary portion of the hotel/motel money: Free Libraries, Parks and Recreation, the Drama, Fairs and Festivals Committee, the Historic Landmarks Commission and the Pocahontas County Arts Council. Two additional groups requested hotel/motel tax funding this year, Preserving Pocahontas and the Pocahontas County Art Co-op.

Preserving Pocahontas is a non-profit project working to digitize historical photographs and documents and create an online archive of Pocahontas County history. The project has one part-time employee, project officer B.J. Gudmundsson.

The Pocahontas County Art Co-op is a non-profit coalition of local artists who joined forces to operate a full-time art gallery in Marlinton and a seasonal art gallery at Cass Depot. The Co-op has more than 30 member artists and craftspeople. The group works to advance awareness of the county’s arts and crafts heritage through scholarships, workshops, art shows and special events.

Representatives of groups requesting funding, with the exception of the Arts Council and Dramas,Fairs and Festivals, spoke to the Commission in support of their funding requests.

After the Commission made allocations to the CVB, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, EMS, Fire Association and Bricks and Mortars fund, it distributed the remainder to qualified groups on a percentage basis.

Commissioner William Beard expressed hope that hotel/motel tax revenue would increase, resulting in less impact to groups with funding cuts.

“Hopefully, it will be another great year in the tourism industry so that, instead of the budget being this amount, it will come out to be better,” he said. “Even if we take one or two percent from another organization, it will come out pretty close to what you’ve been receiving.”

Walker recommended cutting two percent from the Arts Council budget and one percent from all other groups that received funding last year. With those cuts, he said, Preserving Pocahontas and the Art Co-op could be brought in at three percent each.

“That would bring everybody in and not kill anybody,” said Walker.

“I can’t think of a better plan than everybody sharing a percentage or two,” said Commissioner David McLaughlin.

Linda Simmons, of Hillsboro, expressed concern about the funding scheme.

“I think that everybody has a valid reason for wanting this money,” she said. “My concern is that in the future, if you get two or three new groups every year requesting money, how will it continue?”

The Commission voted 3-0 to allocate the hotel/motel tax money as recommended by Walker. See the accompanying chart for a breakdown of the distribution.

In other business, the County Commission:
– Approved the hiring of Trent Herron as a Sheriff’s Department deputy;
– Approved adding the Farmland Protection Board secretary to the County Worker’s Compensation plan;
– Approved a letter in support of Sarah Nott’s Law, which would provide stiffer penalties for parking at an intersection; and,
– Approved a letter to state and federal elected officials stating the Commission’s opposition to a proposed Birthplace of Rivers national monument.

The next regular County Commission meeting is scheduled for February 3 at 8:30 a.m.

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