Excellent article in today’s Democrat: “Residents scrutinize Maple Leaf processes.” Thank you, Sherrie Mitchell, for representing us and asking the tough questions on behalf of county citizens! And thank you Bill Austin for providing your observations and recommendations on the process!
A few of the many quotes that caught my attention:
About the project:
“… having an independent review of the county-owned concert hall project before bids to build it are opened makes sense. There is insufficient transparency, and too much dependence on one person, and lack of oversight. I don’t want my name to be included as being the oversight when I am not. … I was supportive, and am supportive if it’s done right.” – Bill Austin, who resigned as a member of the Maple Leaf Building Corp and is a former County Commissioner.
The “position” of the commissioners and council is that “they do not view the innkeeper’s tax as local taxpayer dollars.” Per president of the County Council, Keith Baker – “ The county doesn’t control those dollars; the CVC controls those dollars. … Those are dollars collected by the tourists for use by the CVC to market tourism and Brown County. … It’s not a county deal, or I would be grabbing it and using it for roads. “
By statute, the county DOES control those dollars! Maple Leaf couyld not have been approved withough the vote by commissioners and council.
Indiana Code – IC 6-9-14 Chapter 14. Brown County Innkeeper’s Tax, allows for the collection of revenue from the innkeeper’s tax. The county auditor is responsible for managing the funds and providing financial oversight as required by the State Board of Accounts.
The statute establishes a Convention Visitors Commission (CVC). The commissioners and council appoint CVC members and can remove them at any time. The council by statute is responsible for “reviewing and approving ” the CVC budget. (The CVC contracts with the Convention Visitors Bureau (CVB) to market tourism).
If we had an effective comprehensive plan, the priorities for investments with revenue from the innkeeper’s tax to promote tourism would be included in the plan. Development of the comprehensive plan – by statute, requires the input from citizens at public meetings. CVC members should be appointed based on their support for the plan. The Council is responsible for reviewing and approving the budget to ensure compliance with the plan.
The commissioners and council are elected officials. Per the U.S Constitution, they serve the citizenry.
The “status quo” has been that the expenditures of revenue from the innkeeper’s tax is being done without alignment with the county comprehensive plan. Further, financial oversight by the council has been inadequate. For instance, they do not hold the CVC to the same standards they expect from county departments during the annual budget review and approval process.
Citizens have the responsibility to provide the needed oversight and to elect representatives that take action that results in benefitting all citizens and not just special interests.
The CVB was chartered in 1984. There has been no savings and the CVC/CVB still rents space for a visitor’s center. Again, the CVB reports to the CVC who reports to the Commissioners and Council who work for “We the People.”
In summary, who controls the expenditure of revenues from the innkeeper’s tax? Correct answer? The citizens!