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Chamber wants Fulton County to step up on tourism funding

Chamber wants Fulton County to step up on tourism funding

The Fulton County Chamber of Commerce is lobbying the Fulton County Board of Supervisors to release

The Fulton County Chamber of Commerce is lobbying the Fulton County Board of Supervisors to release $57,325 in matching funds budgeted for tourism promotion this year and change the way the program is funded next year.

Fulton County Director of Tourism Terry Swierzowski said the Empire State Development Corp. hasn’t distributed the grant it awarded the chamber last year as part of its “I Love New York” program and Fulton County hasn’t released the matching funds it normally provides for the state program. Without the funding, tourism promotion has stalled.

“I’d like to be placing advertising now. I’ve got materials I need to reprint and design. I need the board to release this money,” she said.

Fulton County contracts with the chamber to promote tourism for about $70,000 annually. That money is used for employee salaries and maintenance of the visitors center in Broadalbin. For tourism promotion, the county has always relied on the matching funds program from the state.

Swierzowski said last year the state informed the chamber it would receive grant money in January and the county allocated matching funding in its budget, but the state money never came and the county has held onto the matching funds.

She said lack of funding forced the chamber to promote summer tourism with the remaining $20,000 it had in reserves for the program, approximately half of what would normally be spent purchasing advertising for the county.

Gordon Lattey, the administrator of the New York State Tourism Promotion Agencies Council, said the I Love New York matching funds program was supposed to have provided the members of his organization $4.2 million in grants for the 2009-10 budget but none of it has been released. He said his organization represents 46 tourism promotion agencies like Fulton County’s chamber. He said his group used to have 49 members but three have dissolved due to a lack of funding because the state grants were never distributed.

“This has shut down tourism advertising in a lot of places. It has caused some counties to suspend operations and others exist now in name only,” Lattey said.

Swierzowski said if the county doesn’t release its share of the funding there will be virtually no funding for a fall and winter tourism marketing campaign.

“The only money I will have for marketing will be our ‘Bet on Tourism’ raffle taking place [tonight] at the Holiday Inn,” she said. “We’ve already sold the tickets for that and we keep about $17,000 of the $30,000 we take in for that.”

Lattey said the situation with Fulton County’s chamber is typical of other tourism promotion agencies throughout the state. He said if counties are waiting for the 2009-10 grants they will likely wait forever.

“When the state doesn’t come through with money, the local people in a lot of areas decide they don’t have to do anything. I doubt if we’ll ever see any of that [state] money,” he said.

The Daily Gazette on Thursday asked Empire State Development Corp. officials whether the I Love New York matching funds grants for the 2009-10 budget would ever be released. Lisa Willner, a public affairs manager for ESD, responded via e-mail:

“Unfortunately, the funding for the program was cancelled in March due to the budget deficit. However, the budget which passed this week included $3.8 million for the Tourism Matching Funds Program. With the new budget in place, ESD will be working with local [tourism promotion agencies] and our partners in state government to determine next steps.”

Fulton County Chamber President Wally Hart said he will be attending Fulton County’s Board of Supervisors meeting Monday to lobby them to release the matching funds to provide the chamber a budget for fall and winter marketing. He said he’s also asking the county to fully fund the entire tourism promotion budget for 2011, $120,000, in case the state again fails to provide grant funding.

“I’m asking them to do this so we can continue to do the marketing that we’ve being doing for the last 10 years. If the state does come forward with money we can reduce that from the county’s appropriation, but for us to be able to plan we need six months ahead of time to make purchases. I need to have some knowledge that we’ll have a program in place,” Hart said.

Northampton Supervisor Linda Kemper, chairwoman of the county’s Economic Development Committee, which oversees the tourism program, said she will support releasing the matching funds but it’s too early in the 2011 budget process to tell whether fully funding the tourism budget for 2011 will have enough support to gain board approval. She acknowledged that tourism is a major source of economic activity in Fulton County.

“Without tourism, Northville would be dead. There’s no two ways about it,” she said.

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