Financial Decisions

Jefferson County, Ind., Board of Tourism seeks investment ideas

Board’s ‘Task Force’ mulling ways
to boost Madison tourism

(September 2019)
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Don Ward

An initiative is under way in Madison, Ind., to identify tourism-related needs that could be met with a sizeable expenditure of money that has accrued in several Certificate of Deposit investments held by the Jefferson County Board of Tourism. The money, originally generated from innkeepers’ tax over the years, was invested in various CDs, several of which are about to mature in the coming months.
So Jefferson County Board of Tourism President Sandy Palmer called a special “Task Force” meeting Aug. 20 for her board members to brainstorm ideas on significant tourism-related projects that could be pursued. Those who attended included board members Janet Harding of Rockin’ Thunder River Tours, Kathie Petkovic, owner of Riverboat Inn, and Madison City Councilwoman Laura Hodges.

Photo by Don Ward

The city of Madison installed this day-only boat dock five years ago for visiting boaters to tie up in Madison. The dock was paid for by the city, the Riverfront Development Committee and a grant from the state of Indiana.

The group discussed how much money could be spent on a new project, while retaining the necessary amount of money to operate the Visitors’ Center for one year in the event of a catastrophe that would significantly reduce innkeepers’ tax, such as a local hotel closure.
The board estimates it costs about $400,000 a year to operate the Visitors’ Center, however, the tourism office and innkeepers’ taxes annually generate about that much in revenue each year to cover expenses. The board had $590,000 on hand, including its CDs, at the end of July, so the group members decided they could spend up to $100,000 on a new project.
The wide ranging discussion generated an assortment of ideas, most of which focused on how to capitalize on tourists arriving in Madison by boat. This included the need for a large boat ramp, where boaters could tie up for the day while going into town to shop and eat. The discussion also centered on the need for an air-conditioned trolley to transport visitors from the boat ramp and other sites around the downtown. Another idea was to install bicycle rental drops around town for people to rent a ride. Another suggestion was to construct more public restrooms on the riverfront.
“We wanted to discuss where to best invest those dollars to provide a boost to our tourism,” Palmer said to open the meeting. “When you look back at what brings people to Madison it’s the river, history, historic buildings and festivals. So what can we do to add to that?”
Hodges said she would like to see the board spend the money on something permanent, such as infrastructure or see money to start something new.
Petkovic, who also owns one-third of the Madison Trolley with co-owner Dave Adams, said the town needs a new event in May to replace the one lost when RiverRoots Music & Folk Art Festival was moved to June two years ago. She also added that, “We need a boat dock really bad. And we need a trolley that has air conditioning and runs at least four days a week. Either buy one or subsidize one that the city runs. Any town you stop in along the river, they’ve got a trolley. That’s the way you get around.”
Petkovic said she has four golf carts and a van at her hotel, “but people want to ride on the trolley.” Petkovic suggested the city look into buying a used trolley or rent one on a trial basis for a few years and pay a person or company to operate it.
As for the boat dock, she urged the board to consider funding the construction of one either at the city campground or elsewhere on the riverfront.
Any boat dock or other project involving the Ohio River would likely require obtaining permits and approvals from the city, the Madison Riverfront Development Committee and U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
Hodges suggested that the board look at ways to provide the money via grants or to help with matching grants for an organization to pursue a tourism-related project in town. “That way, it could be something big,” she said.
The Jefferson County Board of Tourism cannot oversee or pursue such a project on its own. It was established by state statute to collect innkeepers’ tax and disperse the money as it sees fit. Most of its annual innkeepers tax money is provided to operate VisitMadison Inc., the county’s tourism office. The board also considers requests for giving smaller amounts of money to local organizations planning their own events.
At the full meeting of the board on Aug. 26, Palmer explained that the task force had begun brainstorming ideas. Board treasurer Renie Stephens of Clifty Inn expressed concerns about spending too much money without withholding enough in reserve to cover the Visitors Center operations costs for one year in case of an emergency or disaster (like a tornado). She told the board that the operations cost for the center have been steadily climbing in recent years, and in fact, last year the cost rose to $454,000.
Palmer said that in light of the current numbers “that spending $100,000 seems doable.”
Palmer said she hopes to recruit more people from the community who are involved in tourism enterprises to join the brainstorming sessions going forward.
During an interview a few days later, Hodges explained that “we are just brainstorming ideas at this point. But we are also looking for any ideas from the public.”

Hodges said she still favors offering the money in the form of a grant for a larger purpose. “I think what we need to do is make some parameters like we would if we were designing a grant and let people come forward to make proposals. Hopefully, we can get the word out that we are looking for ideas. I really can’t see us investing in another festival, but at this point, anything’s on the table.”

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: info@RoundAbout.bz.

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