By Raymond Neupert/South Metro Observer
ROTHSCHILD, Wis – Disagreements over use of room tax funding have the village of Rothschild and the Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau locked in a contract dispute.
Under a new state law signed last year by Gov. Scott Walker, municipalities must now send 70 percent of the room taxes they collect from hotels to a local tourism commission, which must use the money for tourism improvements. The commissions may also send that money to a local “tourism entity” to handle that spending.
Village leaders claim the law effectively ended Rothschild’s previous contract with the CVB. The CVB disagrees.
The dispute was brought to light last week at the village’s board meeting. Village board president George Peterson revealed that staff from the CVB sent the village and its tourism commission a letter demanding payments from the village’s room tax collections. The letter, dated Nov. 10 and signed by CVB executive director Richard Barrett, claims that the village is in violation of previous agreements by withholding payments to the organization.
Barrett goes on to claim that the village had been giving him “verbal assurances” throughout the year that funding would resume at normal levels, but that a contract sent to the CVB this month only provided for $100,000 in funding for the organization, down from nearly $300,000 that had been part of the previous agreements.
The letter also states that the village is enjoying the benefits of being part of the CVB’s efforts without paying for them.
Village board president Peterson says those assurances do not represent a contract.
“We never made any promises about the amount of money that he would be receiving during 2017,” Peterson said.
The tourism commission and the CVB have so far not been able to reach an agreement over those room taxes, according to Peterson.
“Until that agreement is in place, we have not sent them any money.”
During the board meeting last week, Peterson and and Weston village administrator Daniel Guild both expressed concerns.
Guild told village board members, “I can’t look anyone in the eye and tell them it’s a good use of taxpayer money.”
Guild stated that the CVB and its board have been resistant to show just how the room tax spending has benefited Rothschild and Weston, and claims that the CVB has also been resistant to open records requests and audits.
The board has responded to the CVB’s letter with a formal letter of its own, from attorney Lee Turonie.
In the letter, the village states that the money collected through Rothschild room taxes is only provided to the Rothschild Tourism Commission, and that the commission is the arbiters of how that money is spent. The letter goes on to dispute a claim from the CVB that the commission wouldn’t provide timely information on how the funds were spent by stating that the commission is a complaint public body that is required to comply with open records.
“In contrast, none of the above can be said for the CVB and its meetings,” the letter states. “It is wholly inaccurate to state that the Commission will have less openness or oversight than the CVB. Based in part on past experience, the opposite appears more likely to the Village.”
The village’s letter also states that the tourism commission is not required to create a contract with the CVB and instead may spend the money themselves or find another group to offer the money to.
“The several authorized uses of room tax monies do not necessarily require the services of the CVB or its staff in particular. For e.g., the Village probably has much greater experience facilitating tangible municipal development than does the CVB. And as stated above, there may be other qualifying “tourism entities” for the Village to consider.”
The letter concludes by directing Barrett to contact the tourism commission and not the village board for future comments.
When reached for comment, Barrett stated that he’d received a copy of the village’s letter, and that he was happy to see some movement in the matter.
“Hopefully we get it all worked out,” Barrett said. “Everything seems to be going forward again, and we’re going to be talking with the tourism commission.”