Jackson County Times

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Commission Removes Earmark on $927,000 TDC Fund

The question of what to do with almost $1 million in unspent Tourist Development Council funds was not decided by the Jackson County commission Tuesday morning. But it was decided, by a four to one vote, that the money does NOT have to be spent on building a convention/conference center. Commissioners were also painstakingly careful to assure that all future decisions on how that money is to be spent be made subject to their approval.

At issue at the regular commission meeting Tuesday was a request by the Jackson County TDC for commissioners to unlock certain funds from the four-cent local bed tax collections that for the past 10 years have been in a “locked box” only to be spent on the construction of a convention/conference center. Conventional wisdom these days, especially considering the depressed economy, holds that a convention/conference center could become a “white elephant,” unused and possibly wasteful.

So TDC members, joined by Pat Crisp of the local historical group and Chamber of Commerce President Art Kimbrough, had no trouble at all in getting commissioners to reverse the decade-old policy. Only Commissioner Willie Spires voted against the reversal. Commission Chairman Jeremy Branch and Commissioners Chuck Lockey, Edward Crutchfield and Kenneth Stephens voted yes. Spires didn’t explain his negative vote during the meeting but afterwards told the TIMES that the commission’s actions were wrong, “unethical and immoral.” He said, “A promise is a promise” and admitted he favored the idea of a convention/conference center.

Kimbrough, chamber president for the past seven years, was unaware of any promise. He told commissioners, “The TDC is unanimous in its belief that the current restrictions on the third and fourth cents of the lodging bed tax limiting its use to planning for and maintaining a convention center should be removed, making those funds available for a broader range of opportunities for increasing tourism in Jackson County. This would increase the available pool of marketing dollars for promotion of high interest, high value tourism and visitor sites such as the Florida Caverns, various fishing and boating activities, cave diving, historic home tours and of course, the I-10/State Road 71 economic engine.”

No one spoke to commissioners about any other specific plans for spending from the reserve fund, presently amounting to $927,000 according to TDC documents. No one spoke Tuesday against lifting the restrictions. Each bed tax cent generates about $75,000 per year, Kimbrough said.

Pat Crisp, representing the Chipola Historic Trust, urged commissioners to use imagination and creativity in the promotion of local tourism. “We have to get the word out; we’ve got a gold mine if we don’t keep it a secret. Campbellton has the oldest Baptist Church in Florida, Greenwood has antebellum homes, we have the caverns, Indian mounds and an archaeologist recently called a site at Waddell’s Mill Pond a possible ‘Rosetta Stone’ dig opportunity.”

Kimbrough said the Baptist Assembly grounds in Marianna attract “religious tourism.”

TDC Chairman Paul Donofro said a convention/conference center “probably is not feasible” and would “not be in the best interests of Jackson County.” He said his concern is for the fund to be “unlocked but not to be spent just because it is there. We need input from both boards to find a plan we can all live with.”

Chad Taylor, speaking in favor of the change, said, “We don’t need to construct a white elephant.” Jonathan Fuqua, representing the Chipola Conference Center Committee, also mentioned the elephant, saying, “We are not against this (change).”

The commission action necessitated the holding of a public hearing. After the 4-1 vote, the hearing was closed and discussions included commission attorney Frank Baker assuring Commissioner Chuck Lockey that “any expenditures of (TDC) money must be approved by the commission.”


  1. I just hope these tax dollars are not used to add a personnel position to the Chamber or to Tourism Board...again, should not be used to make new hires to somebody's budget....Jackson County commissioners will be held accountable....

  2. Actually there has been a mention of hiring a TDC manager that would be paid by a part of this tax. However, this plan would have to be developed in detail by the TDC and presented to the Jackson County commissioners before it could be approved. Many counties have this position, and it has been very productive. It puts a real dedication and responsibility on the committee, and more concentration on what is needed for the area.