The Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council — a nonprofit, public-private partnership aimed at promoting the Kenai Peninsula as a “world class visitor destination”— was defunded Tuesday evening when the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted to sustain a budgetary, line-item veto made by Mayor Charlie Pierce earlier that day.
Pierce vetoed the $100,000 in funding for the council, a June 18 memo to the assembly said.
Because of the veto, Pamela Parker, a board member of the tourism marketing council, said the organization’s website will go into disrepair, due to lack of funding for digital marketing. She said search engine optimization and Facebook marketing will also cease without funds from the borough.
“I guarantee you, folks from Anchorage and out of state are not going to be seeing the Kenai Peninsula at the top of their search when they look for things to do in Alaska, and that is going to be a direct correlation to the funding that you just vetoed,” Parker told the assembly Tuesday.
In his veto memo, Pierce said it was time for the borough to market itself in new ways.
“I believe it is time for the borough to go in a different direction by using a competitive solicitation process to hire an organization to market the areas of the borough outside of the cities,” the memo reads. “This would provide an avenue to explore different options available for this marketing that include promoting other forms of economic development and a better understanding of borough functions.”
In his proposed FY 2020 budget, Pierce zeroed out the $100,000 marketing council funds provided in years past. The assembly amended the $100,000 back into the budget, before they passed it in May.
In FY 2019, the borough provided the council with $100,000. In the FY 2018 budget, the borough supported the council with $305,980 in funds, and $340,000 in FY 2017.
Tuesday night, Assembly Vice President Dale Bagley moved to override the veto, saying he was disappointed the mayor cut the funding.
“We need to get more tourism here on the Kenai Peninsula,” he said.
Duane Bannock of the Uptown Motel in Kenai was one of a couple of residents who urged the assembly to not override the veto.
“Public tax dollars have no place in subsidizing my advertising at the Uptown Motel,” he said. “When you take tax dollars and give them to a private organization and then the private organization uses those tax dollars to subsidize my competitors — ladies and gentlemen that’s what the mafia does. That’s what mafia insurance is and it’s wrong.”
Parker clarified for the assembly and audience about where borough money goes. She says no money from the borough is used to create the visitor guide, but that it’s entirely funded by the council’s members and advertising sales.
“The $100,000 goes directly toward digital marketing, which was a directive we received last year,” she said. “We are trying to reach in- and out-of-state tourists while they’re Googling what to do in Alaska.”
Executive Director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, Dennis Meadows, spoke to the partnership the organization has with the borough.
“It’s a partnership,” he said. “It’s a partnership between the private sector — between those of us that believe in what we’re doing — and the public sector, because it affects us all.”
Before taking a vote, assembly member Kelly Cooper spoke in support of dedicating money to tourism marketing, noting recent public comment regarding the recently passed bed tax.
“We heard the industry say ‘we want money to be dedicated to tourism,’” she said.
Assembly member Norm Blakeley said he would support the mayor’s veto.
“(Visitors) come here anyhow,” he said. “They come here for one reason: to enjoy the fishing. I don’t think (the tourism marketing council has) ever proven to me that what they do shows any metrics that they really make a big difference.”
Pierce suggested putting the decision to offer funds to the tourism marketing council, the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District and the Small Business Development Group up to the voters.
“Let’s put it on the ballot,” he said. “Let see if the voters in this community — whether they want their tax dollars to go to KPEDD, KPTMC, and then the small business development group. Let’s see how the voters feel about it. Let’s put it on the ballot.”
After the assembly voted to sustain the veto, Parker expressed her disappointment at the next opportunity for public comment.
“Charlie, I’m disappointed,” she said. “I think a lot of local business owners and a lot of students in the school system are going to be very disappointed when they start to see a decrease in that sales tax revenue and those visitors to the area. I believe you have just cut off that lifeblood to the peninsula. People might not be coming here because of the fish, but we’re telling them about all of the other wonderful things they can do while they’re here on the peninsula. They can hike. They can eat at a restaurant. They can walk the beach and look for starfish down in Homer.”
The mayor’s veto was narrowly sustained with a five to four vote. Six votes on the assembly are needed to override a veto.