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Funding shift helps chamber
Reallocation will cover share of rent
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Dawson County commissioners last week approved a measure that will help the local office of tourism and development pay its rent.

In a 3-1 vote, the commission voted to reallocate a portion of the county's restricted hotel/motel taxes to be used for unrestricted purposes.

Dena Bosten, chief financial officer, said the agreement would not change the chamber's overall allocation.

"The county currently receives 3 percent unrestricted funds," she said. "This would also include an amendment to the funding that the chamber receives. They will receive 1.5 percent unrestricted and 3.5 percent restricted funds. Currently, they receive 5 percent restricted."

The vote followed a request by chamber officials for an additional $41,000 to cover the organization's portion of the rent at the welcome center on Ga. 400.

Christie Haynes, president of the chamber and office of tourism development, said the issue surfaced after a recent audit report indicated the tourism division could not pay rent to the chamber with restricted hotel/motel tax funds as it had in the past.

"[The] office of tourism development paying rent to the chamber is not an eligible expense because the two organizations fall under the same tax identification number," she said.

Officials are taking steps, including the creation of a holding foundation specifically designed to manage the building, intended to correct the issue.

While the process could take at least four months, once complete both the chamber and tourism office will pay rent to the foundation for using the building, Haynes said.

Members of the chamber's board of directors and county tourism entities attended the commission meeting Thursday.

"Our board is here because we recognize the importance of tourism in our county and the impact that it has on our community," said Gloria Wyatt, chamber chairwoman. "We want you to please know that we take responsibility for the stewardship of our tax funds and we take that very seriously. And we are proud to be able to represent the over 40 tourism industries that we have here in Dawson County. We appreciate your continued support."

Bosten said the exchange would give the county additional funding that could be used for recreational purposes.

"The 1.5 percent restricted funds that the county receives will be used for project development," she said. "In 2014, we already had some park projects that have been funded through the general fund.

"The way this proposal is presented, these projects would be funded through the 1.5 percent restricted hotel/motel tax."

Commission Chairman Mike Berg further explained the transfer.

"In essence, no money switches hands. All it is, is a paper transfer of 1.5 percent restricted and unrestricted funds so that we each get to do what we need to do," he said.

The transfer only covers the current year.

"This request would not be every year. This is just a one-time request," Bosten said.

District 1 Commissioner Gary Pichon was the lone vote against the proposal.

Pichon has previously expressed discontent with the chamber, and pointed to a decision by its board to buy the welcome center on Ga. 400 without seeking any type of approval from the county, which financially supports the organization.

"As I recall ... nobody came to us and said, ‘Here's what we're going to do. Here's what we're going to use the money for,'" he said last week. "Whether that was a good decision or a bad decision, this board - who is the steward of this county - was not consulted."

Previously, the chamber was operating rent-free in the county-owned historic jail.

"I don't think it's fair to this board to go do these decisions, put us on the hook for this money and then come back with these kinds of discussions. It's not right," Pichon said.