The city of Hudson has long had a well-deserved reputation for spending its funds wisely, resulting in a relatively high delivery of city services for each dollar of tax levy. The word “accountability” comes up each fall during the budgeting process, and accountability would seem to be prominent in the decision-making process that results in an annual city budget.
There is one area of city expenses, though, that does not appear to undergo such scrutiny for accountability. This lack of oversight doesn’t portend anything sinister at the the city council. Rather, it’s something that simply gets missed. It’s part of a budget item called “Community Contributions”, and it generally deals with projects and events not operated or controlled by the city, but which are considered to be beneficial to the city nevertheless, and therefore worthy of taxpayer support. Many of these are straightforward enterprises; the Fourth of July fireworks are included in this, as is the downtown beautification program, and aid to some non-profit organizations.
There is probably a plausible argument regarding whether any city government should be picking winners and losers amongst area non-profit organizations, just as there’s probably a legitimate question whether a city ought to be in the business of giving public funds to any private groups. Those arguments are for another time; here, we’ll be discussing our tax dollars and accountability for what happens to them, as pertains to just one segment of community contributions.
The majority of the money classified as a community contribution in Hudson goes to one member-owned trade association, the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. Since the funding for these contributions comes from the room tax levied on those who stay at Hudson motels, it seems proper that some of it should be put to use encouraging more people to visit Hudson. The thing to remember, though, is that, while room taxes are taxes we collect instead of taxes we pay, the money is still ours. It resides in the general fund, to be used just the same as any other taxes. It is also subject to the same accountability as the rest of the city budget. More, in fact, as only the funds given to the HACCTB are covered by state law, which says that any organization chosen by the city to administer tourism dollars must give an accounting, every year, of where those dollars have been spent.
It’s important here to distinguish between the Chamber and the Tourism Bureau. The Chamber conducts business on behalf of its members in the furtherance of commerce in the Hudson area. We’re not discussing the Chamber or its members. Only the Bureau is to receive funding by the city to conduct tourism efforts on behalf of the city. And the funding is substantial, currently over $100,000 annually. Remember, this is over $100K of our money.
How is this arrangement of granting tax funds to the Tourism Board working out? We’ll look into this tomorrow, but don’t be surprised if the phrase “not well” comes to mind.