Mayor questions how A-Tax and H-Tax awards are spent

BLYTHEWOOD – The focus of Town Council’s third and final budget workshop on Thursday, May 23, centered on expenditures from the accommodations and hospitality tax funds.

In recent months, Mayor J. Michael Ross has warned event organizers that he expects those who are awarded funds from the Town to spend those awards on advertising that will actually bring out crowds of people.

“I feel like a broken record,” he said at Thursday night’s meeting. “We want these events to be successful.”

He was addressing the organizers of the Bravo Blythewood Spring Market which organizer Sue Pence said brought in about 400 visitors over three days. The town awarded Bravo $4,000 for the event.

Of that $4,000, Pence said, the group spent $1,250 on digital billboards in Columbia and $400 in The County Chronicle and none in The Voice.

“Spending $1,200 of your advertising dollars on billboards in Columbia was a chance. If I see that on the next request for funding, I’m not going to approve it. I’m going to turn you down. If you had $1,250 to spend on billboards, you had money to advertise in the local papers,” Ross said.

“We sit here and talk about we want to support our local businesses, want to shop local and that’s what we promote here in our town,” Councilman Eddie Baughman said. “To shop local, we need to advertise local. We see time and time again where the money is spent elsewhere. I think our event organizers should spend their money locally also.”

Ross suggested advertising to the local community and then using Facebook to share outside the community.

Ross said on Thursday evening that an arts immersion class that Bravo Blythewood is requesting funds for in the fall does not qualify for accommodation tax funds. However, on Monday, May 28, Council voted unanimously to fund the class for $1,500 of the $2,500 Bravo requested.

Bravo organizers also sought $4,000 for their annual Holiday Market, but said it will no longer be held in the town of Blythewood but at the Columbia Country Club.

“We’ve already contracted with Columbia Country Club and had to put down a $500 deposit,” a representative of Bravo said from the audience.

Criticizing the town’s signage restrictions, the representative said the location outside of town would make advertising the location much easier.

But Ross balked at funding an event outside the town limits, saying it would not bring business into the town, which is the intended use of the accommodation and hospitality tax revenues.

“You take a tremendous risk doing that when you don’t already have the funds approved [from the Town],” Ross said. “It’s a hard sell when you take [the event] out of the town of Blythewood.”