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City tourism tax an early success

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By Jimmie Earls

Thanks to some hearty appetites and overnight travelers, Springfield’s three-percent tourism tax is generating some much-needed revenue that will help promote the city and improve the quality of life in town.

The tax was instituted on May 1, 2008, and adds three cents per dollar to purchases at food and lodging establishments in the city.

“The city started investigating the possibility of a tourism tax about a year and a half ago,” said Springfield City Administrator Laurie Smith. “The reason we began to look at that is because the surrounding communities already had this in place, and we realized we were missing out on so much for the simple fact that we didn’t have the funding. Tourism is like everything else, you have to have money to be able to compete.”

According to figures from the Kentucky League of Cities, projected yearly revenues from the three percent tax were estimated at $138,000.

“We use that figure as a preliminary budget figure,” added Smith. “In fact, it has been considerably more than we were initially told.”

“The wonderful thing is that so many people that are paying this assessment on their meals are from out of town,” said Sandra Davis, chairperson of the Springfield Tourism Commission. “That’s exactly what happens when we go out of town to eat. People aren’t paying any more than they would pay to dine outside our community. It’s a wonderful way to make us totally competitive with the surrounding communities that have this same tax.”

“I think most people are used to it with other communities having it (the tax),” said Keith Schlosser, owner of Mordecai’s On Main in Springfield. “I think once the city gets the advertising in place, that will give them the resources to do some things they couldn’t do before.”

Brick and mortar restaurants aren’t the only ones subject to the tourism tax. It also applies to caterers, convenience stores, temporary food vendors at festivals and deli counters, any place that sells prepared food.

The Springfield Tourism Commission receives the generated revenue from the tax and the commission disperses 50 percent to the city for tourism-related projects. The remaining 50 percent remains with the commission to pay for marketing and promotion.

“Prior to this tax being enacted, we were struggling to continue holding festivals,” added Smith. “When budgets get tight, it’s a little difficult to justify a party on Main Street. This tax is enabling us to do those kinds of events. Communities need those events. When we’re 90 years old, we still remember the festival downtown.”

“We like to think that our tax is going to help bring in people 50 miles away, ones who are going to visit,” Davis said. “Festivals come under that, where you’re bringing in people from outside.”

The tourism funds have allowed the commission to promote the city with new brochures and, for the first time, the city has been able to buy advertising in the Kentucky Visitor’s Guide. They were even able to host and entertain several writers for travel magazines recently.

“We showed them everything tourism-related,” said Kathy Elliott, assistant city administrator and acting secretary of the tourism commission. “We took them St. Catharine College, Lincoln Homestead State Park, the Mordecai Lincoln home, and the covered bridge.”

“We’ve also had quite a few international guests,” added Smith. “We’ve had groups from Russia, Iraq, and Iran. They’re typically from very large cities, so they’re in awe of our small community and how we wave and speak to everybody.”

The funds from the tax can also be used to improve the quality of life in Springfield, making it appeal to more visitors. One of the upcoming projects involves some work at the tennis courts at Idle Hour Park in preparation of an upcoming tennis tournament. The estimated $4,500 cost of repairs will be paid for by tourism tax dollars.

Another possible project in the future could be a Lincoln-themed museum in the old courthouse.

“We know we want it to be a Lincoln family ancestral museum,” added Elliott. “It may also be an educational center where schools from other counties can come in and hold mock trials.”

Elliott also stated, “Hopefully by this summer, we’ll get the designation of being part of a National Lincoln Scenic Byway, and this is a big, big deal. We’re going to be utilizing our monies to match federal grants, and because it is a federal highway, there will be many opportunities that we don’t have now.”

“When we first talked about a tourism tax, we literally had people say ‘There’s nothing in Springfield or Washington County. What are you going to promote?’” added Smith. “When you have an opportunity to sit down and talk to people about what we have in the area, the list goes on and on, and people are shocked and say they never really thought about it. We are full of history and have so much to offer. We’re lucky that Mayor Cecconi and the city council recognized the importance of what a tourism tax can do for a small community.”

After almost one year since being instituted, the tourism tax has made it possible for Springfield to expand their resources to promote the city and the area. The future for Springfield gets a little brighter with each meal purchased and every hotel guest registered.