MAYVILLE - Peek'n Peak won't see any county funding for its 2010 series of events as a result of decisions made during the Chautauqua County Legislature's Aug. 26 meeting.
Neither will the McClenathan Mobile Home Park in Fredonia, which was similarly in line to receive occupancy tax money next year.
During the discussion on who to fund and how much to fund them, Scot Stutzman, I-Jamestown, criticized the process happening as off-the-cuff decision making - taking money away from some projects and hurriedly picking and choosing others to fund.
Maria Kindberg, D-Jamestown, countered that though the process seemed chaotic, legislators were in fact following the prioritized list generated to decide who receives occupancy tax funding.
Chautauqua County imposes two taxes totalling five percent on hotels, motels and inns - a three percent tax and a two percent tax. Revenues from the first are dedicated to funding tourism projects while revenues from the latter are earmarked for projects protecting or enhancing lakes and streams. Peek'n Peak was seeking $11,936 for its series of events while McClenathan Mobile Home Park had been slated to receive $38,200 for a waterway project.
The two businesses are not alone. Of the 39 tourism projects evaluated for 2010 occupancy tax funds, only 16 were approved by the legislature Wednesday, totalling $118,713. The reason why only less than half of the projects seeking money were funded, of course, is because there is only so much money to go around. So, in order to fund the projects most worthwhile for the county, a review process provides each request with a prioritized ranking. The criteria for determining that ranking is based on whether the projects will attract non-resident visitors, create overnight visitation and extend visitation, among other things.
Though the combined funding requested of the 39 tourism projects totaled close to half a million dollars, the ranking process also serves to generate a lower recommended funding amount for all requests in order to fund a greater number of projects. A similar evaluation and ranking process is in place for determining how to spend occupancy tax money on waterways projects.
PICKING AND CHOOSING
Despite having all projects listed in order of those most beneficial to the county, legislators decided Wednesday to substitute projects with a lower ranking in place of those which scored higher.
No. 13 on the list of 39 tourism projects, Peak'n Peak's series of 2010 events was removed by an amendment proposed by Thomas Dejoe, D-Brocton. Instead of funding the recommended $11,936 for an antique show, cornhole tournament, snocross competition and beer and wine festival, the amendment, which passed in a 22-2 vote, instead called for Festivals Fredonia to be funded $8,700 for its series of events in 2010.
Festivals Fredonia ranked 17 on the list of 39 tourism project applications. The organization has received bed tax money in past years for its annual events, which include Victorian Dazzle, Harvest Moon Festival, Miracle on Main Street and an annual blues concert event. Representatives from the organization were in attendance at the legislature meeting. Also, during the public comment portion at the start of the meeting, legislative candidate and Fredonia resident John Gullo spoke out about the apparent discrepancy in funding for the north and south ends of the county - saying a disproportionate share goes to southern Chautauqua County.
Legislator Stephen Keefe, D-Fredonia, later reiterated Gullo's comments, calling the funding process as not fair or equitable and additionally criticizing Light The Lakes for having knocked Festivals Fredonia out of the top 16 tourism projects for 2010. Gullo characterized the unfair funding as the continuation of an ongoing "North-South War."
"While I've lived in Chautauqua County for over 40 years, and maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I've never really known where that line is that divides Chautauqua County between north and south," Kindberg said of what some described as a war between the county's two ends. "I mean, is it drawn somewhere? Is it on a map? I'm kind of wondering where it is. I've always thought of us as one county, but apparently there's a very definite split."
Though the amendment substituting Festivals Fredonia for Peak'n Peek passed the legislature, another amendment to the resolution, proposed by Stutzman, failed in an 11 to 13 vote.
Stutzman, who took issue with the request of Lily Dale for a Memorial Day Weekend event in 2010, said the county should not be funding programming which focuses on the spirit realm.
"What Lily Dale has forgotten is that this nation was founded under God," Stutzman said. "Supporting mediums and mediumship would be a poor choice for this county and it's one that I will not support. I ask that we pull this request."
Though not on the official record, Ron Lemon, R-Frewsburg, reacted enthusiastically to Stutzman's proposed amendment, saying he had similarly marked the item. Similarly as an aside, though opposite in tone, Kindberg criticized Stutzman's amendment, saying the nation was founded on the idea of freedom of religion.
Calling himself a walking contradiction, Keefe proposed an amendment to remove McClenathan Mobile Home Park from the list of projects to be funded by two percent occupancy tax funds in 2010.
"Unfortunately, this is in my district," Keefe said. "However, there is a $38,200 grant to an individual for his property for the abatement of the Crooked Brook Creek that runs behind his establishment. I feel that that $38,200 should be pulled out of this allotment because it's more for the benefit of a private individual rather than a community activity."
The resolution was approved by the majority of the legislature, removing the project from the list of projects to be funded by the two percent occupancy tax in 2010. The project was No. 10 of 13 recommended to be funded. Like the tourism projects, additional waterways projects which requested money were not able or chosen to be funded by the legislature.
In his comments, Keefe seemed to suggest he was interested in freeing up the funding for other waterways projects in the north end of Chautauqua County. However, a second amendment to the resolution was proposed and passed by the legislature providing the town of Ellicott with additional funding and putting the remaining funds in reserves.
Ellicott's waterway project was No. 13 of the 13 recommended to be funded and as it was last, had only been partially funded with what money remained. However, with the removal of the McClenathan Mobile Home Park, Kindberg proposed funding the full project and placing the rest in reserves. Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, seconded the amendment, which was subsequently approved despite opposition by several legislators.
Another proposed amendment, proposed by Charles Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, would have added a project of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy to the list. The amendment was defeated in a 7 to 17 vote, however, as it dealt with purchasing property and removing said property from the county tax roles. The property was described as being beneficial to the environment by proponents of the project.
The resolution allocating occupancy tax money to waterways projects, with its two amendments by Keefe as well as Kindberg and Barmore, was eventually passed, though opposed by Robert Duff, R-Sheridan; Stutzman; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Lemon; and Tina Hallquist, C-Jamestown.