Archive for Saturday, July 13, 2002

Visitors bureau seeks funds

July 13, 2002

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Citing financial problems and an accounting error, the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau is asking the city for nearly $44,000 to keep open the Lawrence Visitor Center in the old Union Pacific Depot.

Judy Billings, director of the bureau, said the request was based on continued slow revenues from the 4 percent "guest tax" visitors are charged every time they stay in a Lawrence hotel room. The bureau has cut other services, including the promotional banners that adorn downtown, as a result.

"We're just in a cash-flow crunch at the moment," she said.

Another problem: Bureau officials inadvertently omitted a line item in its 2003 budget that contained funds to run the center in North Lawrence. The bureau's 2003 fiscal year started April 1.

"We had a problem with our spreadsheet software," Billings said.

The bureau is operating this year on $395,000 received from the city's guest tax fund. That's down from $515,200 the previous year, officials said, reflecting the slowdown in tourism.

Under an understanding with the city, the bureau operates the visitor center in exchange for its subsidy from the city. Billings said bureau staff served 692 people at the center in 2001.

Billings asked that money for the visitor center come from Visit 2020, a city reserve fund taken from a 6.5 percent share of guest tax revenues. That fund is budgeted to take in $27,950 this year, less than the bureau's request, but has accumulated $95,000 during previous years.

City commissioners have ordered that some of the Visit 2020 reserve be held back for the city's 150th birthday celebration in 2004. Mayor Sue Hack said she was concerned the sesquicentennial resources not be squeezed, but said she would probably support the bureau's request.

"I don't oppose the use to fill in as a stopgap," Hack said.

The alternative, Hack said, would be for the bureau to take the money from its own operating budget. That's money used to advertise Lawrence and draw visitors.

"We're kind of between a rock and a hard place, because if we don't spend the money to advertise Lawrence, those bed taxes will continue to go down," Hack said.

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