WAHOO – Nearly a month after requests for funds from the Visitors Promotion and Improvement Fund were first put in front of the Saunders County Board of Supervisors, a decision has been made.
At its June 11 meeting, the county board voted to pay four grant requests from the Improvement Fund and to continue to approve such requests on a case-by-case basis.
After the grant requests were first presented to the county board in May, discussion has been ongoing regarding how to deal with private companies that ask for money from the fund.
Lodging taxes collected by hotels, campsites and bed and breakfasts in the county go into the Visitors Promotion and Improvement Fund, which the county has split into two funds – promotion and improvement – as allowed by state law.
The Saunders County Visitors Committee, which oversees the grant applications, processes requests two times a year. The committee makes recommendations to the county board, which has final approval.
On May 7, the county board approved grants from both the promotion and improvement funds, but later rescinded the action due to questions related to the use of the improvement fund.
Discussion continued at the May 14 meeting, where the county board went into executive session to talk over the matter, but did not take action after moving back into the public meeting.
At its May 21 meeting, the county board again approved grants for Mead Days, Mead Easter Egg Hunt, Val Days, Saunders County Lost Pets, Ceresco Easter Egg Hunt, Ceresco Days, Saunders County Fair Wine Tasting, Wahoo Country Music Show, Ashland Public Library and Ashland Stir-Up from the promotion fund. The combined total of the grants was $5,700.
However, the board took no action on May 21 regarding four requests for grants totaling $13,900 from the improvement fund for the Wahoo Tourism Office, Heritage Inn, Wahoo Chamber of Commerce and Starlite Event Center, as supervisors continued to discuss whether private entities should receive grants. Two of these applicants, Heritage Inn and Starlite Event Center, are private companies.
Last week, the item was back on the agenda. Supervisors learned that private entities can only receive grants from the promotion fund, while the improvement fund is solely for nonprofit groups. Supervisor Ed Rastovski suggested they move the improvement fund requests to the promotion fund so they could be approved.
County Clerk Patti Lindgren told the board that they would have to amend the budget to move the funds, and there was not enough time at the end of this budget year to do so.
Supervisor Ed Rastovski made a motion to pay the remaining four grants and to approve future requests on an individual basis. Supervisors Frank Albrecht and Larry Mach voted no. Rastovski and supervisors Craig Breunig, Doris Karloff voted yes.
It was up to Supervisor Scott Sukstorf’s vote whether or not the motion would pass. After several minutes of contemplation, Sukstorf voted yes.
“To move forward, (I vote) yes to move on,” he said.
After the vote, Albrecht said in the future he would not be opposed to using Visitors Promotion and Improvement Funds for private entities, but he thought some of the amounts were too high. Starlite Event Center requested $7,500 for a new sign, and Heritage Inn asked for $2,400, also for signage. Wahoo Tourism and Economic Development applied for $3,500. Those funds are used to promote events like the Saunders County Fair and the carnival held during the fair, as well as the Wahoo Saddle Club Rodeo.
The board also agreed by consensus to dissolve the improvement fund in the 2019-2020 budget and work solely out of the promotion fund for future all requests, including private entities.
“Going forward if we need to get rid of one, let’s get rid of one,” said Sukstorf.
Lindgren said the timing was good because the new budget year starts July 1.