Of the $2,398,948 collected last fiscal year in bed tax dollars in Santa Rosa County, the Tourist Development Office set aside $75,000 to use as grant money for local events that help promote tourism. A criterion was set that had to be met in order to qualify for the grant money.
The requests could not exceed $5,000 per event, an event could only receive funding for three years, 90 percent of the funds had to be spent on marketing outside of Santa Rosa County, they had to identify a lodging partner and they had to have the potential to bring out of town visitors to the county.
The applications received by the TDO equaled $115,000 in requests, clearly more than the $75,000 available. The tourist development committee held a meeting to review the applications and make decisions on who got what. And with $115,000 in requests, one could reasonably assume that the $75,000 would be spent quickly and in the most useful ways. Sounds good so far, right?
Wrong. Let’s start with the fact that they did not even award all the $75,000. Instead, they only awarded $40,550 in grant money – leaving $34,450 in the TDO’s hands. They cut the funding on many events, some by more than half, rejected some applications and yet did not allocate all the funds they had.
Who did not receive funding? Most notably – the Krewe of Jesters’ Navarre Mardi Gras parade received ZERO dollars. Do they put heads in beds? They absolutely do. Navarre Press receives numerous phone calls throughout the year of visitors wanting to know the date of the parade so they can plan their trip around it. Krewe of Jesters asked for $4,000 and received it last year. They asked for $4,000 this year and got nothing.
The Navarre Fishing Rodeo received ZERO dollars – for not bringing in enough out of town anglers and because we are successful. However, we knew that was coming. Commissioner Williamson stopped that in its tracks because he didn’t like that Sandi Kemp serves on the Navarre Beach Area Chamber Foundation board and owns a marketing company that funds the work they did on the rodeo. But what Williamson failed to mention is the very same marketing company donated more than $40,000 of services and hours. A small portion of the money paid only covered the hard costs (i.e., postcards, save the date cards, website, banners, etc.). It doesn’t account for the hundreds of hours of staff time, design charges and so on. The fishing rodeo was seemingly punished for doing business with the marketing company. Williamson can be assured that the grant money for the fishing rodeo isn’t “propping up” this business as he asserts in his “campaign” stops around the county. Rather, the marketing company is propping up the rodeo. Sandpaper Marketing does everything and serves as event coordinator for the rodeo. For free. The time spent is happily donated – only some of the money spent is reimbursed. However, that won’t be an issue anymore because the county government is no longer involved. A blessing – really.
There were many other organizations that also did not get funded like the annual Riverwalk Festival, the annual Blueberry Bash, Munson Heritage Festival and Movie Night on the Blackwater.
Among those that did receive funding, most received significant cuts. Monarch Madness at the Panhandle Butterfly House received only $2,000 of the $4,000 they asked for. Run for the Reef was cut back to $1,000. The annual Navarre Car, Truck and Bike show only received $1,750 of the $4,500 they got last year.
When the applications were reviewed and the TDO had $34,450 left to give away, wouldn’t you think there would be a Round 2 of distributing funds? Wrong again. They TDO decided to keep the money to spend on a regional billboard advertising campaign. That’s right – let’s take grant money away from the local businesses putting on these events to promote tourism and to only spend that on advertising. You already have a line item on the budget for that – why would you do that?
You see, instead of promoting our businesses, Williamson, who is the county commissioner assigned to the TDO, is in the business of trying to squash the businesses that don’t fawn after him. And we don’t. But despite Williamson’s rhetoric, Navarre Press will continue to be one of the best newspapers in the state of Florida (we have that in writing) and Sandpaper Marketing will continue to promote businesses in the Navarre Area and organize events that bring tourists to the area.