The Cumberland Tourist Board withdraws cash from the visitors office

The Cumberland County Tourism Development Authority Wednesday cut $800,000 in funding to the agency that promotes travel to the Fayetteville area.

TDA members raised concerns at a special meeting about how the Fayetteville-area Convention and Visitors Bureau was spending money. They mentioned expenses for the office website, consultants and travel.

The TDA allocates funds to improve tourism in the region. State law requires a 6% occupancy tax during short-term lodging, with money going to tourism initiatives.

In the 2022-23 fiscal year, the TDA expects to receive nearly $9 million in occupancy taxes, according to the budget approved by the board on Wednesday.

Earlier this year: How State Funding Will Affect Cumberland County’s Arts Community

Of those funds, it will distribute $2.2 million to the Crown Complex, $2.2 million to the Fayetteville/Cumberland County Arts Council and $3.2 million to the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, depending on the budget.

The original budget estimated that the Visitors Bureau would receive $4 million this fiscal year, based on an allocation percentage from the Occupancy Tax. However, County Attorney Rick Moorefield said state law does not require the TDA to allocate a percentage of its funds to the visitors’ office.

As a result, the council unanimously decided to grant the tourist center a lump sum of $3.2 million. He will then keep the $800,000 for his own discretionary purposes, which will total nearly $1.2 million, according to the budget. The TDA reportedly received nearly $366,000 in the original budget.

The FACVB has already spent $2.9 million, according to Board of Visitors Chairman Fred Surgeon, who said he was “concerned” about the budget cut.

Fake tickets?

The TDA’s board of directors criticized the expenses of the Bureau of Visitors. The office’s budget was not made public at the meeting, but board members referenced it during their discussion.

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TDA Chairman Vivek Tandon said some of the expenditures of the Visitors’ Bureau budget were ambiguous. He said it looked like someone was “just adding numbers” to arrive at the agency’s estimated allowance. “That’s what it looks like to me,” he said.

Acting Visitors Bureau Chairman Randy Fiveash said he “respectfully” disagrees. “There’s no fake money in there just to fill a hole,” he said.

Fiveash said the office had “changed everything” since taking over after former chairman John Meroski left in 2021. He also said the office was “125% different”.

TDA board members requested more descriptions of FACVB expenditures, which Fiveash said it could provide in future quarterly reports.

New contract

The TDA Board of Directors also approved a new contract with the Visitors Bureau, which is only for one year and requires TDA approval for expenditures over $100,000.

Fiveash asked for a longer contract because some marketing companies want 18-month contracts. The board responded that they would consider doing a longer contract next year if Fiveash was the permanent chairman instead of the interim chairman.

Old contract:Call contract for tourism marketing details

The board also stipulated in its new contract that it wanted any years of unused, unencumbered funds to be returned to the TDA, after the completion of an audit.

The Visitors’ Bureau currently has money saved, known as a fund balance, which Moorefield says is a “substantial amount” that should not exist under the current contract.

“If this provision had been followed, there would be no fund balance,” he said.

The surgeon said the Visitors Bureau must have three months of income for their fund balance, which they have.

The Visitors Bureau will review the contract at its next meeting.

Journalist Ivey Schofield can be reached at [email protected]

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