Should town help fund promotion of Culver, tourism?

--Council talks best use of municipal dollars--

Discussion of promotion of Culver tourism and activities -- and sources of their funding -- took center stage among members of Culver's town council during a work session last week which preceded the regularly scheduled meeting the same evening.

Council member Ginny Munroe had previously requested the topic be placed on the agenda, and at the April 9 work session she discussed the level of support the town as a municipality should give to merchant-planned events and local businesses in general.
Munroe noted some local merchants have launched discussion of a possible fall festival in October in Culver.

"Should we have a brochure or something sort of like a brochure but with a calendar of events in Culver?" she asked. "We don’t have our own director of economic development, which could be a full-time job in any larger town. The Redevelopment Commission can't really pay for that type of thing. Is there a budget for marketing Culver?"

Such endeavors would not only benefit local merchants, continued Munroe, but the community at large. She noted the town has devoted $10,000 annually towards the community resources building in Plymouth.

She also noted Marshall County Tourism, which promotes Plymouth businesses via its First Fridays program, among others, has a budget of more than $100,000.

"Our (Culver) Chamber has a budget of (around) $3,000," she said. "If we could come up with a chunk of money just to market Culver, we could utilize that through the year."

She suggested local entities wishing to create events or other activities could apply for funds through town manager Dave Schoeff and/or town clerk Karen Heim.

It was also discussed that county tourism funds are derived from the hotel-motel tax county-wide, and Culver likely generates a significant amount of tourism and hotel use in the county. It was also noted that the town annually denotes $10,000 to the Marshall County Economic Development Corporation.

"Here we are funding things out of town and I don’t see how that's really benefiting us a whole lot," added Munroe. "We'll never bring any traffic from outside without marketing that does it. Maybe if we won't invest in a director of economics, we can invest in our merchants."

Munroe said one of the challenges facing Culver's Chamber is the small size of Culver as a community.

"Even with 50 percent of businesses paying fees (to the Chamber), it doesn't add up to much," she said.

Audience member Russ Mason noted the town could possibly opt out of its hotel tax going to the county tourism board, something Overmyer suggested looking into.

"I think next year we should budget for our merchants," said Munroe. "It makes me feel bad because it's hard to be in business in this town (because it's) a seasonal town. it gets tougher and tougher. At least we're coming up with ideas for winter and fall, but to promote them costs a lot of money."

Munroe also described the possible fall festival currently in discussion stage among several local entities. A variety of events for all ages would be included in the weekend-long festival. Clark, noting the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council, of which she is executive director, might be interested in participating, wondered why more communication hadn't occurred around the planning.

"They need to let the Chamber know what's going on," she said.
Council president Sally Ricciardi said the festival "sounds like a great idea -- it just needs some coordination."

Also discussed was the possibility of combining a proposed visitor's center and museum with future space for Culver's town hall and other municipal entities, in light of the deteriorating condition of the present town hall. It was noted renovation of the current building has been priced at around $1.3 million. Schoeff pointed out grant funding may be easier to obtain through refurbishment of some existing structure than building a new one.

It was noted a representative of the museum committee is expected to discuss the matter in more details at a work session in the near future.

Also discussed were specifics of preparing the town for impending implementation of federal health care changes, or "Obamacare."

Schoeff said town leaders have been through webinars on the new mandates, and Heim will shortly go through another with the town's insurance company. He said the first phase of implementation will include defining who is considered a town employee and how many employees the town has on the whole.

"Employer penalties are based on whether you're a small or large employer," Shoeff remarked. "It's not a matter of if you'll be fined (for some form of non-compliance), but when."

He also noted the town will have to track its volunteers, many of whom are not volunteers since they're given small stipends for their time.
Heim explained the next phase of implementation includes defining which employees are full time and which are not.

"We may find out it is cheaper in the long run to farm out our EMT service so we don't get penalized," said council member Bill Githens. "I've been trying to preach this for several months now."

Schoeff said the same scenario facing the EMS service and related insurance costs could be true for the fire department, though he cautioned that level of discussion is still down the road.

Mason suggested the possibility of the Culver-Union Twp. fire department becoming an entity independent of the town, which would allow the town to hire the department as a contractor.

Other discussion centered on use of the fire department's now-retired grass truck, which will be sold via sealed bids through public notice in local media and possibly on Ebay as well.