The Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau board is having an educational session right now. We're in the board room of the CVB.
Disclaimer: I'm typing as people are talking. There may be typos. People also have a tendency to talk at the same time, so I can't always hear everything.
And, I'm not typing every word. Think of this more as the highlights of the meeting.
Something doesn't make sense? Corrections? Have questions? Ask.
CVB exec director Neal McCoy, Mayor, CFO Lynn Norris, Nettie Davis (liaison between CVB & City Council), Carolyn Moss, Chauncey Godwin, Wesley Wells, Council Pres Fred Pitts, Jonathan Waller, Jeff Snyder, Bobby King, Guy Mitchell (city attorney), Darrell Smith (city CFO)
Chairman Neal McCoy calls meeting to order at 2:06 p.m.
Thought it was wise for us to go back and talk about where we came from. Started in 1985.
We're experiencing some growth now with Toyota and all the good things going on. I've asked some of the guys who were part of forming us to talk about the beginning - Bobby King, Lynn Norris & Guy Mitchell.
We're going to try to be in and out of here in an hour and a half.
Mayor Jack Reed:
As part of the State of the City, I've been making a point to go around to the departments and talk with them. In reviewing for the presentation, we found that some of the boards and departments are in different silos - TRA, airport, Elvis Presley Foundation, you.
This is a chance for me to meet with all the different silos.
Our goal is not to become Jackson with Madison and Flowood on the outskirts having the great quality of life. We want to take a look at where we are.
The bloggers and compainers have such a loud voice and can overshadow all the good things. We want to say that we have good things going on.
We want to celebrate where we are and say we can do better.
Lawyer Guy Mitchell:
Based on new Census figures and with our new annexation, we're going to have more than 3,000 new people in our city. Those people wanted to be part of what Tupelo was without paying their share of the taxes. And they'll get that opportunity if the case gets reaffirmed.
We had some visionaries back in 1985 saying that we needed to do more to promote visitors and conventions. How are we going to fund it? We're going to do a hotel tax. That will be the budget of the CVB. A local/private bill passed in the Legislature that year and an ordinance by the City Council passed. They created CVB and created the 2 percent tax on hotels/motels.
But that tax didn't create enough money. It couldn't do a lot of advertising. It couldn't hire enough staff. It couldn't build facilities. It was operating out of a room in the old City Hall.
And then came annexation and the idea for a new arena. Then the restauratuers embraced the idea of a new bill that will add a 2 percent tax on food sales. Passed in 1990 in Legislature. It amended the earlier tax. $18M in bonds passed to acquire property and pay for the arena. But, we needed something to pay for the arena because it wasn't thought that the arena would pay for itself.
But to everyone's surprise, the first few years it did operate in the black. One way to get the CVB budget up and to solicit the CVB's support for the arena was to get the 2 percent food tax and then to get the CVB to support the amortization of those bonds. That's why the amortization is the biggest item in your budget.
Without the extra tax, the CVB was really stymied in what it could do.
(reading the bill now)
This board has the authority to establish your budget and designate money for them, but your budget still has to be approved by the City Council because it is part of the city's budget.
That's important. If there's ever a question about how you can spend your money, that's up to you. In the council prior to this one, there got to be some misunderstanding on the City Council and on this board about that process. We've avoided that since.
The city isn't telling you how to spend your money, but before you spend it, the city has to be onboard with your budget.
Question from Chauncey Godwin:
What about salaries? In the past, we've had problems when we thought people in this department were doing a good job and we had the money and we wanted to give them a raise.
If we're sitting here as a board and we decide if we give Neal a 20 percent raise and the city is only giving 10 percent, we've had to explain ourselves. Are we held to the number the city is giving across the board?
(Carlie note - I didn't understand what he said here. He said that if the number is in your budget for personnel then ... That's where I lost him. Still not sure what the answer is. Will ask him after the meeting.)
The employees of the CVB are employees of the city. You are part of the city. The way the funding works is tourism tax comes through the city. We have special revenue fund set up for those revenues. You are part of our audit.
We were in such an usual spot when we came into office 3 years ago. Very tight financially. For all of us city employees, no new taxes, no pay raises, but we would let attrition take its course.
Best way if you aren't in an unusually tight situation is to give the department heads more discretion so if Jeff has been very productive and he deserves an increase, he can get it. But if a new person hasn't hit that point, then he doesn't get a raise.
What I've told every department head is that this might not be what you like, but I've got to be fair. I have to feel like there is some fairness among the city employees. I can't have the receptionist at the CVB making more than receptionist that TW&L.
When the new guy (Todd Hunt) started at the arena, he was getting paid a lot. More than anyone else's, I think. And Todd's salary was public. And when the City Council found out, we were told that we couldn't do anything about it.
And there was talk that the CVB director made a lot more. And it created a lot of chatter within the city and the city employees because people who had been faithful weren't getting paid that much.
The arena had an assistant director position that was unfunded and they took money from that and used it to help fund the director's position.
Todd makes more than I do. And I understand that. It's a competitive job.
For example, Johnny Timmons (TW&L) has been working for the city for years, but Todd gets paid more than him.
If someone does a good job, we want to reward them.
We try to draw up a budget that will get approved. We don't want to throw pie in the sky numbers. We'll lose Neal (exec direc) if we don't stay competitive with other cities. We want to put together a budget that will get approved and that will help us keep our people.
It's not only about salaries and programs - we want to make sure people get a good return on that 2 percent tax.
As part of the board, I look at what can I do to make the board work more efficiently.
What we're doing today is what helps build communication. People talk around the water cooler and we need more clear communication. I've met with TRA, I'm meeting here and I'm going to meeting with the arena. It's not the council versus the CVB. We're all on the same team.
Todd's done a great job and in order to get him, I knew we were going to have to offer that salary.
The more accessible Todd is and your board is, the better it is for us on the council. So when something unusual pops up, we can have a better understanding of what the issue is.
Bobby King of MS Hills Heritage Area Alliance (previously of Bobby King & Associates):
What you've heard from the mayor and others have been some really hard things - where does the money come from, who gets paid what. Mine is easier.
As a project contractor through the CVB, my job has been to market the city and its services and projects on the state and national levels.
Going through some of the famous people born within 30 minutes of Tupelo: baseball players, coaches, 1960 Playboy playmate of the year
In 1984, Louisiana was hosting the World Exposition from May 12 to Nov. 11, 1984. When our mayor got back from that, he said, "We need need a tourism product that we can sell."
Tupelo hosted the governor's conference on tourism. He had an Indian and astronaut theme.
The tourism revenues got the big bump in the 1990s from restaurant. Went from $100K to $300K.
First CVB office was downtown at 117 (I think this is North Broadway). Then it moved to place that currently is home to Hair Play.
We've had three directors since 1985 - Sam Fleming (1985-1997); Linda Johnson (1997-2010); Neal McCoy (2010 to present).
Sam learned the trade while he was in the role. Man of great integrity. Linda was here during a great money time for the CVB. She took the money and invested it back into programs.
The Gulf Coast was the only licensed CVB with a tax in the state in the 70s. They controlled much of the committee money.
Fun billboard in presentation - "Some of Tupelo's best friends are tourists."
In 1992, riverboat gaming was legalized in Mississippi. We sat here and had strong discussion about how it would affect life in Tupelo. Many said it won't affect Tupelo. They said gaming is only for a small group of people. I disagreed. Casinos said they were fishing for conventions during the week and gamblers during the weekend.
At that time, our premier conference center was the Ramada. The casinos then went to building state-of-the-art conference centers and meeting spaces. It changed the face of meetings and conferences in Mississippi.
We developed our strategy - the All-America City. This will be us and us only. We will use this to lure in people. Then we began talking about the arena. Said we had an eyesore downtown and we wanted to bring in people.
Then the aquatic club came to us and said they thought they could bring in extra people and money if they could get it domed. And then we were asked if we could add lights to the SportsPlex so we could draw in more people.
Tupelo residents use those facilities. Tourism money is used before tourists ever get here.
Tax collections are changing. Tupelo is No. 5 right now. Jackson is 1, Harrison County is 2, DeSoto is 3 and Hattiesburg is 4. Tunica has been dropping every year because it's a one-trick pony. If you don't like to gamble, you don't have much to do there.
Tupelo is pretty steady in its growth. It's been modest at times, but we've never had a negative year that I know of.
Competition to us is people like Philadelphia that go after conventions and meetings.
My observations - It's always been operated with complete integrity from the leadership and the staff. Y'all are doing what's best for Tupelo. As a result, I think the legacy is that y'all are doing what's right for the citizens. It is run as a well-done machine. I compliment y'all and appreciate the opportunity to speak to y'all.
Berkeley Young will be making our 10-year plan presentation to us next month.
Bobby mentioned one-trick ponies. I like that we have diversified with baseball fields, film, etc. As other cities look at how they are developing their projects, we need to keep looking at what we are doing and how do differentiate ourselves and how to stay competitive.
While y'all are a restricted fund, y'all are still part of the city.
It seems the best expenses we've done have been both/and. They benefit both people who are already here and tourists who will come. Example: Lighting at ballfields.
I would say keep looking for those both/and opportunities that keep people wanting to move/live here and keep people who want to come and visit here.
We are at a fork in the road. We are about to look at our 10-year plan. We are going to have to make some decisions about our future. We are going to look at our budget projections and how we want to use these reserve funds about how to we want to build those facilities - sports venues, entertainment, etc.
Meeting adjourned at 3:18 p.m.