Tourism board plans budget

About 10 months into collecting the new innkeeper’s tax, a Johnson County board is working to determine how more than $400,000 will be spent next year to promote local tourism.

Last year, the Johnson County Council approved a 5 percent tax on each inn, hotel or motel stay in the county. The tax had raised $330,000 through the end of July.

The Johnson County Convention Visitor and Tourism Board, which is made up of nine members appointed by the Johnson County commissioners and Greenwood Mayor Mark Meyers, is tasked with developing a plan to spend the funds during its inaugural year.

Options the board is considering include hiring an executive director to staff a tourism bureau, bringing in an outside marketing firm, creating its own nonprofit or partnering with another nonprofit, board president Mike Neal said.

“There need to be professional marketing folks with experience in destination marketing,” Neal said.

“It’s the first year. It will continue to be exploratory in what best works for our county.”

The budget approved by the board in July is for $406,000 to be spent in 2017. The board has budgeted $100,000 to hire a director, $250,000 for professional services with the remaining funds allocated for items, such as office rent, travel and operating expenses.

“We are going to take a stab at finding what we can uniquely promote in Johnson County and what strikes peoples’ interest in the state and across the nation,” Neal said.

That includes promoting Johnson County’s major assets: Greenwood Park Mall, Franklin College and Freedom Springs, he said.

The innkeeper’s tax is projected to raise around $500,000 in 2016, but that figure could climb closer to $600,000, depending on how the holiday travel season goes, Neal said. Revenue projections prior to the tax being approved ranged from $500,000 to $700,000.

The board approved a budget of $406,000 in July, choosing to give itself financial leeway.

“We left ourselves some flexibility,” Neal said.

The board has until its Dec. 7 meeting to make a final decision on how the 2017 budget will be spent, he said.

The board elected to not spend any money this year, and spend time researching how other counties have used the tax and projecting how much money will be available to be spent over the next several years, he said.

Others counties have provided a wealth of experience to draw from, Neal said. More than 70 other Indiana counties have implemented an innkeeper’s tax, he said.

Board members have spent time researching what other counties have done with the tax and have had representatives from Hendricks County and Shelby County speak to the board about what their counties have used the tax for.

With a budget of $270,00 a year, Shelby County operates a Tourism & Visitors’ Bureau with a staff of one full-time and one part-time employee. The bureau’s outreach efforts include print materials, a visitors center and Taste of Shelby County, an event highlighting the county’s local food and beverages.

Visit Hendricks County has a $2.2 million budget and a staff of nine. Recommendations from its executive director, Jaime Bohler Smith, included using a content management program such as Simple View to maintain a website.

Smith’s recommendation was that a Johnson County Convention, Visitor and Tourism Bureau would be best served with two full-time employees.

The Johnson County board will take over the JourneyJohnsonCounty.com website in January. The website was created and run by Aspire Johnson County and the Johnson County Development Corp. and has lists of places to shop, eat and play in Johnson County, as well as a calendar of local events and directions on how to get around. Other marketing efforts in 2017 could include social media outreach and advertising, Neal said.

By the numbers

A new, 5 percent tax on hotel, motel or inn stays is being collected in Johnson County this year. A board has been appointed to determine how those funds will be used.

2016 revenue through July: $330,000

Projected 2016 revenue: $500,000 to $600,000

Proposed 2017 budget: $406,000

Author photo
Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.