The short and quick of it is, “That’s the indication.” Normally one establishes a precedent that starts them on a gradual slide down the “slippery slope.” A discussion at the November 22 meeting of the Branson Board of Aldermen about that precedent happening using City Tourism Tax marketing funds to pay off airport bond indebtedness under an agreement with the Branson Airport didn’t stop there however. The statements of two aldermen, Mike Booth and Rick Todd, made during the meeting indicate, at least to an Ole Seagull, the potential of “slide heck” let’s just “jump over the cliff” and use taxpayer Tourism Tax Marketing funds to make bond payments for the Airport under the agreement.
The precedent for using city Tourism Marketing Tax funds being discussed at the meeting involved a situation that, for some reason, both the city and the Chamber of Commerce have deluded themselves into thinking is a onetime situation. City Administrator Dean Kruithof said, “I have purposely called it ‘financial gymnastics’ because I realize that it is a very unique situation to do this.”
The comments the Ole Seagull made to the board during the meeting summarize the situation as he believed it to be at the time:
“1. The city’s marketing funds should be used for their maximum marketing potential, not ‘laundered’ [Bad choice of a word here, the Ole Seagull would defer to Administrator Kruithof's use of the term 'financial gymnastics.'] to make payments for the city’s agreement with the airport after the fact.
“2. The facts, as I understand them, are that the airport entered into a cooperative agreement with the CVB to pay a portion of the marketing effort in Chicago and has in fact paid its portion. Again, it deserves emphasis that there was no talk of any reimbursement by the city etc. at the time. It was a straight forward deal between the CVB and the Airport…
“After the fact, the city, chamber and CVB, working in concert, have concocted the current scheme to make the payments that the city owes the airport under the agreement by reimbursing them, after the fact, for that marketing expense.
“3. Am I the only one in this room that can’t see the precedent being established here? Whether its $1 or $2 Million, in my opinion, funds that could be used to market our community, at a time when such marketing is sorely needed, are being diverted to make payments on the [Airport] agreement.
“4. Please forgive the simplicity of the math that I use, but I have to keep it simple enough for me to understand. If the total marketing expense in Chicago was $2 dollars and the airport already paid $1 Branson has received $2 in marketing benefit. If the city takes the $1 it is going to pay to reimburse the airport and uses it for marketing, Branson receives $3 in marketing benefit.
“However, if instead the $1 is used to make the payment on the agreement under this new innovative type of marketing, Branson only gets $2 in marketing benefit. Multiply the $1 by hundreds of thousands or millions, up to $2 million a year in fact, and you can see the potential of where this could go.
“5. From a precedent perspective once you start down this slope where does it stop? This is really a rhetorical question, but ‘What’s to keep this same situation from happening next year and the year after for more and more money?’”
The recorded statements of Aldermen Booth and Todd during the discussion of this matter indicate a distinct possibility of exactly where it could stop. Alderman Booth said, “…I think again, it is a marketing function and that the airport has been a marketing function of Branson since its inception and I just think that we took the money out of the wrong place originally, but there’s not a whole lot we could have done about it then, but we found a way…and as far as I am concerned we need to keep doing so year after year period…” Alderman Todd said, “…I just couldn’t understand why this wasn’t being paid out of a tourism account….You are certainly right Alderman Booth, it is a marketing agreement and we ought to keep looking at ways we can figure out how to pay for it from a tourism standpoint because that’s essentially what it is.”
Will the 25 percent of the City Tourism Tax devoted to marketing meet the same fate as “Humpty Dumpty?” If the inaction of the tourism industry in Branson regarding the ‘financial gymnastics’ involved with the current proposal and the statements of Aldermen Booth and Todd are any indication, that is a distinct possibility.