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Finney County, Kansas Hoteliers Seeking Separation of the County Convention and
Tourism Bureau from the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce
Citing Fiscal Issues and Poor Performance

By Jerome P. Curry, The Garden City Telegram, Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 05, 2011--County Commissioners Monday took no action but offered some advice on a request by at least nine hotel owners or managers to separate the Finney County Convention and Tourism Bureau from the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber has administered the bureau for the county since 1979, according to chamber records.

The hoteliers cited fiscal issues and questioned the bureau's performance in bringing events to Finney County.

Commissioner Clifford Mayo told both the chamber and hotel/motel partisans: "I am of the opinion that we have something in place that will work if you will listen to each other."

Amro Samy, part owner and manager of the Clarion Inn, told commissioners the bureau "plans one major event per year, the Hot Air Balloon Festival, which does not create heads in beds and generates little or no revenue for the local economy as hotel rooms and food are donated." He questioned the bureau's expenditures from the county hotel and motel tax that supports it. He said more area and regional sports tournaments in Garden City are at least one area that should be explored and that an independent group would investigate.

Paul Joseph, chamber president, countered and said hotel and motel receipts are up in the "last two years ... 18 percent in '08 and 12 percent in '09." Joseph also said "no better Convention and Tourism Bureau staff exists in southwest Kansas than the Finney County Convention and Tourism Bureau staffers."

He told the commissioners the chamber "will immediately recommend to the ... (tourist bureau) advisory committee, chamber board and County Commission to modify the 2011 Business Plan to possibly hire an event recruiter/sports authority director to recruit weekend events including ball tournaments."

The bureau is chartered under an agreement between the county, which collects the hotel-motel tax, and the chamber. It has an advisory committee but no policy-making board, Commissioner Don Doll noted at the meeting in the commission chambers of the County Administrative Building.

Commission Chairman Roman Halbur said there was no way the commission would make a decision on the proposal on Monday.

"You guys need to listen," Halbur said to both groups. "Everybody needs to work together."

Both sides said they were willing. There was no raucous behavior. It was measured debate but intense. The county commissioners controlled the give-and-take.

All the seats were taken. Some were standing.

According to the agreement with the county, the advisory committee passes on a suggested budget for the convention and tourism board, which then is considered by the chamber board and finally presented to the county commission for its approval, Joseph said today.

The chamber president said of the bureau: "There is no need for a change. It is there. It is set in place."

Commented Commissioner Larry Jones as he looked around the crowded commission chambers: "If there is no need for change, you wouldn't have all these people in this room."

The director of the bureau is Lynn Schoonover. Roxanne Morgan is the assistant director. Schoonover reports to Joseph as president of the Chamber. Both were present at the meeting. Neither spoke to the commissioners.

The CTB Advisory Committee Members include Kathryn Askren, Sunnyland B & B, Committee Chair; Tim Schiffelbein, Comfort Inn; Therese Cruz, Holiday Inn Express; Neil Kapadia, America's Best Value Inn; Samy; Barrett Patel, Best Western Red Baron; Angie Clark, Finney County Fairgrounds; Chad Knight, YMCA; John Washington, Garden City Recreation; and Kathy Sexson, Lee Richardson Zoo.

According to a document presented by Samy and P.K. Patel of the Continental Inn, the hoteliers who favor a separate county government controlled Convention and Tourism Bureau include: Neil Kapadia of America's Best Value Inn, Barrett Patel of Best Western Red Baron Inn, C.K. Chandrakant of Garden City Inn, Samy, P.K. Patel, Kerry Spanier of Dusty Trail Inn, Harry Patel of the Flamingo Inn, Chirag Patel of the Hampton Inn and Yogi Gandhi of National 9.

On March 8, 2010, the commissioners approved a 2 percent increase in the hotel-motel tax, increasing the tax to 6 percent. It was said then the additional revenue, expected to be between $100,000 and $200,000, would be used by the Convention and Tourism Bureau to market existing and new events to increase weekend occupancy rates.

Clarion Hotel's Samy has said before he believes the county should administer the hotel-motel tax dollars instead of allowing the chamber to do so.

"The hoteliers feel there has been little to no fiscal accountability . . ," says a document prepared by the hoteliers who want an independent convention and tourism group. They want as much money as possible spent on marketing.

That money comes from the county's hotel and motel tax.

This year's budget, based on 2010 hotel-motel tax revenues, is $203,761.

That budget includes, said Joseph in an interview, "100 percent of the salaries of the director and assistant director, 50 percent of the salary of a receptionist, 50 percent of a bookkeepeer who keeps the books for the chamber and CTB, plus one-third of my salary. That has not changed for 20 years." It also includes marketing, the chamber president said.

In a talking points memorandum, Joseph says the chamber "charges Finney County no fees to run the Convention and Tourism Bureau."

Say the hoteliers in a document distributed to the commissioners: "The hoteliers want to see an independent CTB that does not pay administrative support cost . . . CTB no longer needs to be watched over by a third party.

In other County Commission developments Monday, the commissioners:

--Awarded a contract for restocking of culverts to J&J Drainage Products Co. of Hutchinson on a low bid of $15,744.50 and voted to purchase two F250 4x4 pickups from Burtis Motor Co. of Garden City on a bid of $22,299 each plus $169 for a shop manual.

--Decided to remove the rails on the Little Lowe Road Bridge over the Farmer's Canal as a temporary measure to allow large farm equipment to use the bridge. Other access in the area has been blocked since the Kansas Department of Transportation has started building a new four-lane highway from the U.S. Highway 83/50 junction to IBP Road. Without access to the highway, the bridge is the only way landowners can access their property.

--Reappointed Claudia Ward to a second four-year-term on the Finney County Public Library Board of Trustees.

--Told County Public Works Director John Ellerman to contact county residents about the dust suppressant program. The cost to the residents is $2 per linear foot. This covers the cost of applying a magnesium chloride solution to the roads to mitigate dust problems. Many county residents take advantage of the project each summer to suppress dust on roads near their property.


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Copyright (c) 2011, The Garden City Telegram, Kan.

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