Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Providence Tourism Commission looks to grow

by Matt Hughes
J-E News Editor
The members of the Providence Tourism Commission have been tasked with creating and supporting events in the city of Providence that will help to fund the generation of tourism dollars. They due that with funds gathered from the city’s “tourism tax”, which comes from a $0.03 tax on food that is prepared and sold in the city limits.
That tax generates $20,000-$25,000 quarterly, or close to $100,000 per year. At last week’s Providence City Council meeting the commission had $300,000 in their bank account.
That figure, however, is a bit misleading. Although the seven member panel is selected by Mayor Eddie Gooch, the mayor nor the city council has any control over how those funds are spent. Commission members must follow state statutes that allow expenditures on only two areas:
•City beautification projects
•Programs or projects that will generate tourism for the city
That rules out patching potholes or buying new city equipment, which is what some people think the commission should be doing. Such expenditures would not be allowed by state law.
“We also get a lot of request from people holding cancer benefits,” said Carol Hill, the treasurer of the commission. “While we would love to help, we are not allowed to use tourism money for that.”
That doesn’t mean that people looking to host an event shouldn’t contact the tourism commission. 
“We are always open for suggestions,” Hill said. “We can try to come up with things ourselves, but we can’t please everybody. We can only come up with so many ideas. We’ve been approached by people about different things, and as long as it’s for tourism, we try to do it.”
Hill said that the commission meets on the third Wednesday of every other month at 4:30 p.m. in Leonard Law Office on Main Street. Those meetings are open to the public, who are encouraged to attend.
There is currently one vacant seat on the commission. The other members are (* member whose term is ending):
•Ben Leonard - Chairman
•Jennifer Gobin - Secretary
•Carol Hill - Treasurer
•Mary Powell *
•Katherine Turner *
•Stephanie Cross *
Hill said that members are appointed for one three year term. Beyond that they have to be appointed one year at a time.
In the past the commission has provided funding for Octoberfest, the Uptown Park, Veterans Plaza and light pole banners for Christmas, spring (etc.). In addition, the commission makes an annual payment of $5,000 for Providence Municipal Golf & Recreation Center.
The commission also picks up half the cost of the fireworks display on July 4, and all of the entertainment for that celebration.
Last year the commission voted to provide funds for a new soccer complex planned for Highland Avenue by the city park. They also paid for the stripping and sealing of Frank White Track at Westerfield Park. They provided $19,000 of the $35,000 needed for repaving and repairing the tennis courts at  the Golf and Recreation Center and $19,000 to repair cart paths at that facility.
This year the commission is looking to provide $19,000 for tennis court repair at city park and more funding to continue to repair the cart paths at the Golf and Recreation Center.
Hill also said the commission has discussed creating a paid staff position for someone to handle the day-to-day operations of the commission.
“We are all volunteers and have other jobs,” said Hill, who works at Providence Elementary School. “If we had someone who could just work for us and plan events, I think we could get a lot more things done.”
If the commission does decide to follow through with that plan, it would be subject to the same guidelines as any other tax funded organization. This means the position would have to be advertised and posted for the public to submit applications.

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