Wednesday, July 18, 2007

TOP STORY >>City hears pros, cons of new tax

Leader staff writer

“No one is going to come to Jacksonville because they saw a commercial about it on television, and I’m certainly not going to Brinkley because they have a commercial,” said Alderman Gary Fletcher at a joint meeting Monday of the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission and the city council.

The joint gathering was called for when a proposed two-cent tax on prepared foods, also known as a hamburger tax, came up for discussion at a July 5 council meeting.

The tax, which can be approved just by a council vote, will generate an extra $550,000 a year for the advertising and promotion commission to use to promote and market Jacksonville. The commission currently has a budget of about $80,000 garnered from a two-cent hotel room tax.

“We need to spend money to make money,” said Alderman Bob Stroud, a proponent of the tax. “I can’t make it any simpler. Jacksonville is a great place to live and we have to let people know.”

“But, I don’t want us advertising Rock Hudson and giving the people Mickey Rooney,” Fletcher responded. “Let’s put money into our facilities and let them speak for themselves. We were ahead of the curve with the community center and/ or ball fields. Let’s get back on the cutting edge,” he said.

Every alderman except Reedie Ray and all commission members except Ray Patel and Andy Patel were at the meeting, along with a number of concerned residents.

After listening to discussions for, against and in the middle about the tax, the commission decided to have the city attorney prepare an ordinance for the council to vote on at its Aug. 2 meeting. Advertising and promotion commissioners have been working on the tax idea for about nine months.

The commission has suggested that half of the $550,000 projected income, or $275,000, be used for professional promotion and marketing campaigns to bring people to Jacksonville and its attractions. That idea bothered Fletcher and some other aldermen.

“I don’t like the idea of us shooting with buckshot when we need to make a direct hit,” Fletcher said. Aldermen Terry Sansing repeatedly said the council needed to sell the tax idea to the people here before approving it and spending the money to try to bring in visitors, tourists and new residents.

“Sell it to us, let us vote on it. That’s what I’m hearing from the people,” Sansing said.

“People come to a town for entertainment. What do we have to offer?” he added. “And if parks are our draw, then let’s put our money there. Word of mouth about those improvements will travel a lot faster than any $250,000 spent with an ad agency.”
The proposed budget has about 30 percent of the tax, or $163,000, going to the city’s parks and recreation department.
The money is vaguely earmarked for park improvements and operations, but no specifics have been outlined. Alderman Linda Rinker asked for the commission to come up with a long-term vision and to go beyond the one-year proposed budget.

“We’ve got to have an extended plan and clear direction,” she said.

Alderman Kenny Elliot suggested a five-year sunset on the tax, and then look to see what it accomplished.

Of the $550,000 generated by the proposed two-cent tax, the commission has also slated $20,000 for the patriotic spectacular show to increase promotion of the activity and allow for a bigger fireworks show on the Fourth of July. The Reed’s Bridge Battlefield group will get $12,000 to buy Civil War displays and make other improvements to the site to bring in tourists.

The Jacksonville Museum of Military History will get $22,000 of the new money to help get the necessary permission to display a C-130 aircraft and to help toward transportation and maintenance of that aircraft. The commission plans to set aside $30,000 of the tax for projects, requests and ideas that come up during the year that are not already budgeted.

Another $18,000 will be used to help pay for the staff to coordinate and collect the tax data, staff training and educating businesses and the public on what types of items are taxable.

Alderman Marshall Smith, who chairs the advertising and promotion commission, said the commission plans to go heavy with marketing at the beginning.