Tourism Advertising Doubled By Commissioners

BERLIN – While much of
the discussion at Tuesday’s final Worcester County budget work session was a
formality, controversy emerged over the tourism advertising budget and the
elimination of 15 take-home vehicles for county government staff.

The tourism budget, in
the proposed fiscal year 2011 county budget saw its advertising spending
doubled from $150,000 to $300,000.

One Worcester County
Commissioner, Bobby Cowger, said he was having a tough time with an additional
$150,000 for tourism advertising in this bad economy, especially when staffers
are losing their take-home vehicles.

“You’re going to take
vehicles away from employees and kill their morale … I think priorities are way
off base,” said Cowger.

Fifteen take-home
vehicles were eliminated from the budget during budget deliberations earlier
this month, saving $16,000.

“Tourism is the number
one economic engine here in Worcester County,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

A room tax increase in
Worcester County could be funneled to the Worcester County Tourism Department,
headed by Lisa Challenger, Gulyas suggested.

“Some of that money
should be designated to Lisa [Challenger] not from the municipalities but from
the county,” Gulyas said. “That would solve a lot of the tourism problems. I
think that’s something we need to look at right away.”

Eliminating take-home
vehicles is a cut, said Commissioner Judy Boggs, but the tourism advertising
budget is something else.

“When we put extra money
into tourism, there is a return on our investment,” said Boggs.

For each tourism ad
dollar spent, the county sees $1.50 back in revenue, Commission President Bud
Church said.

The take-home cars could
be returned to employees if county staff could find $16,000 from the rest of
the budget, Church suggested.

The $150,000 tourism ad
budget has been enough for the last 10 to 15 years, Cowger said, questioning
the sudden increase in funding.

“The only thing the
businesses in Snow Hill have asked for is the advertising money,” said

Ocean City just doubled
its advertising budget, Shockley said, which means that the resort, which
depends on tourism, clearly feels that tourism advertising is a priority.

The connection between
the two budget items was not clear to some.

“You’re comparing apples
and oranges,” said Gulyas. “It has nothing to do with the cars people take

“You’re setting a bad
precedent out here,” said Cowger.

How can the county tell
all departments to cut their budget requests by 10 percent, then double part of
the tourism department’s budget, Cowger asked.

“The tax money is paid
by tourism and it should go back to tourism,” said Gulyas.

Later in the discussion,
Cowger pointed out that Sheriff’s deputies, some of whom live in Nanticoke or
Wicomico County are allowed to take their cars home, which he feels is not

Commissioner James
Purnell, although earlier saying that he agreed with Cowger, made a motion to
leave the tourism budget and the take-home vehicle cut as proposed.

The commissioners voted
5 to 2 on his motion to keep the tourism advertising money increase and the
cuts to take home vehicles, with Cowger and Shockley voting against.