We’ve been discussing, over the past few days, the use of our tax funds for support of tourism in Hudson, and the role played by the Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce in explaining (or not) their use of our money. Thanks to all those who contributed their comments. Many were thoughtful presentations of differing points of view and most were helpful in seeing the various aspects of the conversation.
There were some questions raised that might be answered here, such as the inquiry into the pay level of Chamber presidents in neighboring cities. Well, the range goes from a low of $0 for the Stillwater Chamber president to a high of $91,710 for our Hudson Chamber president. According to one Hudson Chamber member, our Chamber president’s compensation, based on a percentage of revenues, is about twice the industry average.
Another comment concerned the HACCTB’s ability to fund itself without grants of city taxpayer money. This would have to do with Chamber functions only, as distinct from tourism activity. The answer is “yes,” the Chamber produces enough revenues from membership dues and program income to fund itself. Some of the events that occur in Hudson may be thought of as tourism events, but are actually Chamber events: the Christmas Tour of Homes and Craft Sale and the Spirit of the St. Croix Art Festival are two examples of these. Income from all Chamber fundraising events produced $48,130 of revenue in 2011, the latest year reported.
There was also a lot of comment about the value of the Chamber and the Tourism Board to our community. While these comments were all valid displays of concern, they were actually not the point of the written articles that appeared here. The question that these articles wished to explore concerned the lack of accountability for considerable sums of our tax dollars - over half a million in the last few years - being given to the HACCTB by our city government for the advertising and promotion of Hudson tourism. The subject was this lack of accountability, and why this was allowed to continue, not whether the HACCTB was a good or bad organization.
There was discussion from a city council member regarding where the tax dollars came from and how this council person had confidence that we were getting “a good bang for our buck”. With all respect due this council member, how can anyone know, when for years the HACCTB didn’t tell us what they were doing with our money? The council now receives a report that indicates that approximately two-thirds of last year’s funding went to the Chamber itself, and one-third to the actual execution of tourism advertising and promotion. Charging us $2 for every $1 that the organization administers, if that is what these figures are showing us, can’t possibly be considered a good deal. However, it was good to hear from one of the six council members, and comments from other council members were requested from other posters.
Perhaps the comment that we should consider acting on was the suggestion that we ask the city to treat our money more carefully, to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to area advertising and promotion companies, including the Hudson Chamber, and open up this process to fresh ideas and competition for our tourism tax dollars. This would cost the city virtually nothing, and we could only benefit. The Twin Cities area is nationally known for the quality of its advertising and promotion agencies; why shouldn’t we take advantage of this? A corollary is that we would finally be in accordance with our written policy regarding procurement of such services. This policy was created to help insure that we really are getting the best bang for our buck. Why did we write it and post it on our city website if we don’t plan to use it?
In order to change this situation, one (or more) of the city council members has to inform the mayor that reconsideration of the $115,000 grant proposed for 2013 needs to be included in the agenda prior to Monday’s council session. This request for reconsideration needs to take place at the council meeting on January 28, this Monday. Only the request is necessary, as the actual reconsideration will take place at a later meeting. Everyone will have time to prepare for the debate.
Contact your council representative to make your opinion known. Names and phone numbers are online at www.ci.hudson.wi.us/council.htm, and if you’re unsure about which Hudson council member represents you, the district maps are located on that same page. Any fiscally conservative council member, concerned about the best use of our tax dollars, should be asking for reconsideration.