The Oneida County Tourism Council spent a considerable portion of its Monday meeting discussing ways it can bring in more revenue. By the time the discussion was over, a consensus was reached to approach the Oneida County Board of Supervisors for $100,000 in the next month or so as the board prepares to finalize the county's 2020 budget.
In addition to chairperson Krystal Westfahl, executive director of the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce, others present included Jeff Anderson, regional tourism specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and Lyn Pilch with the marketing firm Pilch and Barnet, which also works with Vilas County's tourism and publicity department.
Jim Winkler and Jack Sorenson were present to represent the county board.
After Anderson gave a brief update on expected upcoming grant announcements, Pilch brought up approaching the Oneida County board for funding. The process involves making a presentation to the county board's administration committee.
"(And) presentations to the full board," she said. "What would be good for us to put together this year?"
Some in the room looked at Sorenson.
"You're looking for me?" he asked.
"Anybody," Pilch said.
"All I can tell ya is absolutely everything is on the table," Sorenson said. "Potential cuts across the board."
"Why are we talking more cuts this year?" Westfahl asked.
"Well, the whole thing deals with the fact the Oneida County employees (wages) are considerably under the average," Sorenson said. "It's gonna take $600,000 to $800,000 to bring them up close to average. Considering cost controls and where that money's gonna come from ... budget cuts."
It appears the tourism council is facing an uphill battle when it comes to making its case to the county board. As we reported Tuesday, the county administration committee has included the OCTC on its shortlist for potential funding cuts.
Under a plan approved by that committee Monday, the county would reduce funding to both the tourism council and the Oneida County Economic Development Corporation by $25,000 each, and would completely eliminate county funding for the fair, which is currently $16,000 a year. The Humane Society would lose half of its county funding, but at least part of that would be offset by increased license fees, as well as fees that now go to towns going to the Humane Society.
However, administration committee members stressed that each group on the list would have ample opportunity to make an argument as to the proposed cuts.
"What I want to make clear is that we are suggesting this," supervisor Robb Jensen said. "We are not saying that it's happening. Granted, some people are going to hear this and say, 'You just cut tourism by $25,000.' No, we're not. We're looking for revenue, so were saying come back and justify it."
The status quo
Myles Alexander, the University of Wisconsin's Community, Natural Resources and Economic Development Educator for Oneida County, attended the administration committee meeting earlier in the day.
He said he knew one question the administration committee will have for whoever speaks on behalf of the tourism council is: "Is there any way you can generate ad revenue in your brochures?"
Westfahl said that was something the council would have to talk about. Pilch said there have been conversation regarding advertising revenue.
"We have multiple opportunities where we could offer ad revenue," she said. "And the bounce back usually from that is representation from parts of the county don't want to get those monopolized by the businesses that can afford it."
As far as the county budget process, Alexander said the public hearings are scheduled for October, but OCTC members would be asked questions during September.
Anderson asked Alexander if the sense he got from the administration committee was that some of the funding provided to the OCTC in the past could be replaced with ad revenue.
"Part of the funding could be replaced," Alexander said.
Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce executive director Lauren Sackett noted the tourism council requested $115,000 during the last budget cycle.
"They agreed to $100,000 but they really wanted to cut us to $75,000," she said.
Pilch asked Sorenson if he felt the OCTC should ask for an increase from the $100,000.
"Don't go for an increase," Sorenson responded. "Go for the status quo."
"There's no guarantees for anything," Sorenson continued. "What the admin committee comes up with may be shot down on the county board floor."
Westfahl later acknowledged there could be an effort on the part of the OCTC to put together an ad campaign which could generate revenue.
But she also wanted to know if anyone on the OCTC has called any Oneida County board members to visit with them about "the impact we actually have."
"Or is it just the one time a year that Jeff, Lauren and I go in front of the county and talk to them?" Westfahl asked. "Maybe we need to do some advocacy work ... and say, 'Here's our talking points.' Let me have a one- on-one conversation with you. Let me give you a call. Go out for a cup of coffee or something and advocate for ourselves and why we are doing as well as we are."
Pilch asked Sorenson for his thoughts from the county board perspective.
"Do you think they understand tourism and what we do here?" she asked.
Sorenson, who's served on the state tourism council, said "every group out there" that may be facing budget cuts has just as much commitment to their organization and what they're doing "as this group does."
"They're all gonna be out there advocating why the county board should not save money by either not eliminating them or cutting them," he said. "Bring it on. I'm not trying to discourage you but I'm telling you every group out there is going to be making their case."
Anderson asked Sorenson if he thought the county board would want to hear figures on the "return on investment" or an advertising campaign and what it's saying.
"Depends on the individual and how you approach it," Sorenson said.
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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