Almost half Corinth Area CVB budget at risk

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

CORINTH – The Corinth Area Convention and Visitors Bureau – also known as the tourism council – met in special session Friday to discuss the possible loss of $250,000 from the agency’s budget.
Funds to operate the CVB derive from half of a 2 percent tourism tax, the other half of which goes to retire the debt on the Crossroads Arena.
Officials with the CVB learned last week that Corinth aldermen and Alcorn County supervisors are considering transferring almost half the funds they receive annually from the tourism tax to the Crossroads Arena budget.
“The tourism council money cannot be used for anything except advertising and promotion of programs,” said District 1 Supervisor Lowell Hinton, who also chairs the county board. “The city and county are supporting the arena with taxpayer money, but really we should use part of the money that comes through tourism for what it’s supposed to be, to support the arena also.”
Because the law implementing the “tourist promotion tax” in 1997 specifically designated the arena’s 1 percent of the tax for debt retirement and capital improvements, operations at the arena have been supported as line items in the city and county budgets.
The law said the Corinth Area Tourism Promotion Council’s 1 percent is “for the purpose of providing funds for the promotion of tourism.”
Tourism tax collections for fiscal year 2012, which ends Sept. 30, are expected to exceed $1 million this year, as they did for the first time last year. The Corinth Area CVB submitted a budget for city and county approval requesting $567,000 for fiscal year 2013.
During budget discussions for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, some of the arena’s seven board members urged the city and county to increase funding for operations. The facility had not, they said, since it opened in 1999, been funded by either government at the level intended and could not be successful without more income.
Arena officials requested $150,000 from both the city and county as an optimal budget for fiscal year 2012. The county allocated $112,500 and Corinth $63,000. The Corinth Area CVB/tourism council, which each year has underwritten some marketing and promotion of events at the arena, committed an additional $75,000 for arena marketing and promotions, for a total of $250,500 going to the arena.
While tourism officials only learned last week that almost half their budget might be diverted to the arena, the issue has apparently been under discussion among several supervisors and aldermen for some time, though not in open meetings and without a quorum of either group.
Along with Hinton, District 3 Supervisor Tim Mitchell and Ward 1 Alderman Andrew “Bubba” Labas have participated in the discussions. They’ve recently consulted with attorneys for the city and county to be sure they have authority for possible board actions under the law that authorizes the special tax.
Labas said he, too, supported redirecting money from tourism to the arena to give it the best chance to become a self-sustaining facility.
While understanding that the arena, too, attracts out-of-town visitors and deserves CVB support, members of the CVB board and Executive Director Kristy White said the CVB’s role is much more broad.
They also must address issues of filling hotel rooms – where most arena events do not draw overnight guests – and bringing visitors into Alcorn County for a wide variety of events like the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorations, Farmington Civil War Re-enactments, Jacinto Festival, Grand Illumination, Slugburger Festival, Hog Wild, shopping and other events that don’t occur at the arena.
“I hope the city board and the supervisors don’t lose sight of the fact that we have tourist attractions and events all over the county that could lose funding, not only at the arena,” White said.