St. Johns TDC Looks at Funding Adjustments

Change is in the air for tourism funding in St. Johns County. And that could mean new opportunities for programs for public art, capital projects related to tourism development and as tourism education.

At a meeting of the county’s Tourist Development Council earlier this month, Director of Tourism and Cultural Development Tera Meeks outlined the recommendations of a working group tasked with looking at tourist development tax requests.

“They were looking for two things,” Meeks said. “One is a procedure for handling unsolicited requests and the other was looking at anywhere there was an opportunity for potentially establishing new or additional funding programs for really sort of anything, but most notably art in public places, tourism education and/or capital improvements.”

On the issue of unsolicited requests, if an applicant is eligible to receive funding through an existing program the request can only be considered withing the specific program. Exceptions can be made with a review of the request by select “staff,” comprised of the directors of the county tourism department, visitors and convention bureau, the St. Johns Cultural Council, the county parks department and the Office of Management and Budget or their designated representatives.

If the request is for a capital project, the item will be heard during a regularly scheduled TDC meeting from March through June. The working group also offered the possibility of a moratorium on requests for capital projects funding.

“The idea is we would roll them into the regular budget process,” Meeks said.

TDC member Irving Kass said he was concerned that an extended process would be unwieldy.

“I think we’re better off looking at everything in entirety instead of ad hoc, because I think it is a fairer, cleaner process,” he said. “I think we should only hear the recommendations once a year.”

TDC Chair Gayle Phillips agreed with Kass on shortening the time frame.

“I do like the idea of getting it at one time and reviewing it (so it’s) not like the first person to the table gets to take the whole pot,” she said.

Meeks said the working group could meet again and talk more about an annual or periodic program for funding requests and report back to the tourism board.

“The group will meet again,” she said. “We will put this back on the agenda again.”