By Ben Freed via mlive.com
The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners has preliminarily approved a contract with the new Washtenaw County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The 10-year contract would send approximately $5 million annually to the organization, which was recently formed by combining the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti-area convention and visitors bureaus.
The debate and negotiations preceding the merger lasted through much of the spring, summer and fall. Some of the commissioners were weary of the subject and expressed desire to simply pass the contract as it had been prepared.
"I think we have an obligation, and I'm sure not all of you will agree with me on this, but I think we need to do this and let them get started. We need to give them their legs and let them go."
Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, brought up numerous issues with the contract including its length. Both Smith and Jamnick said they were concerned 10 years was a long time to lock the county into this kind of a commitment.
Smith pointed out the entire board could be replaced within two years and the funds, collected under the accommodations ordinance, could be used for other means.
"I want to make sure the expenditures of these funds are aligned with county priorities on a regular basis," he said. "What if in a few years time we want to build a convention center, which is also a legal use of this funding."
Conan Smith also brought up the idea of a convention center when discussing how the county could use the remainder of the 10 percent of the collected tax now used for administration purposes. While the county collects 10 percent to administer the tax and its distribution, it only uses a small portion of those funds. The remainder are eventually turned back over to the bureaus.
Conan Smith floated the idea of having those funds stay with the county, which could use them for allowable expenditures—including the convention center.
That change to the contract was never made, but it gained some support from other board members. Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau director Mary Kerr, who will be the inaugural director of the WCCVB, said taking those funds—likely about $350,000 per year—back from bureau would mean there would be less money available for marketing the county.
The only change made to the contract at the meeting was a clarification put forward by Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, that Community Tourism Action Plan (CTAP) grants should not be taken from the 25 percent of the funding designated for activity within the Ypsilanti Community.
The board passed the contract by a vote of five to three with commissioners Jamnick, Conan Smith and Alicia Ping voting against it. Ping, R-Saline, said her opposition stemmed from the living wage mandate included in the contract.
The board is expected to give the contract final approval at its next meeting Dec. 2.