News-Sun photo by KATARA SIMMONS The Tourist Development Council is planning to create new arts and music festivals in an effort to attract tourists to Highlands County.
published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
HCA: It helps a community thrive
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- The Tourist Development Council wants to change how it does business.
Members of the Heartland Cultural Alliance are suspicious of the proposed changes, worried they are directed at lowering funding for arts and culture so more money can be spent marketing golf and fishing.
The TDC has proposed a new ordinance for the county commission to sign into law.
Funding for the TDC office, including salaries, said director John Scherlacher, will be taken off the top of the budget. He added that would come to 42 percent of the total tourist tax received by the council.
The HCA, its president Fred Leavitt said, is not opposed to money taken for TDC's operations per say, although he and others feel 42 percent is high.
The main worry, he added, is the other provision - that is the remaining finds would be pooled together for the council to dispense with as it wishes without a representative of the arts and cultural community having voting representation on the council, and therefore no advocate, or expert.
He adds, "(Council) members don't know how to market art. They have no concepts, no plans, no goals, no organization whatsoever. Furthermore, (council members) can spend all the revenue promoting anything they choose."
"I absolutely understand where the HCA is coming from," said County Commissioner Don Elwell, also a member of the TDC. "For the first nine years, not enough attention was spent on (monitoring the pre-set percentages). I understand the historical background.
"On the other side, there is a new era, the TDC has to adapt," Elwell said. "The council was only intended to function for two years; it has now been around for 11. We have to come up with different plans."
A main goal is to simplify the current process, Elwell added. "Currently the percentages are complicated -- 12 percent, 17 percent, for example. By not carving out specific category percents things are simplified, 10 percent for the lakes, 30 percent for event grants, and 60 percent for marketing."
Part of the plan is to treat TDC operating costs the way a line item in a budget would be, Scherlacher said. This way expenditures would be stable and staff can make projections. "Like how much money will be needed to pay for (operational) supplies and salaries. It will make it easier to present reports to the council. We can say, 'This is what we spent, this is what we have.' The rest will be used for what is intended."
Elwell said that while the TDC has shortchanged arts and culture in the past, he did not feel that would happen again.
For one thing, he said, the arts has received the funding it was owed in 2012. "They are sitting on $150,000 to $200,000 that they are afraid to use," Elwell said. "All tourism assets must be marketed. We will not ignore art and culture."
The HCA, however, has its own plans -- some of them big.
Leavitt said the council has a five-goal agenda, geared not just to promoting the arts, but drawing out-of-county people to Highlands, whether to visit or stay.
Among the more ambitious plans are to create an Acoustic (Folk) Music & Art Festival, a Literary Festival, establish a Peter Powell Robert's Museum, and promoting the county as a Florida art and cultural center.
"Four new galleries have opened in the past few months," Leavitt said. And a local exhibit by local artists who have worked together to create the Lake Wales Ridge Project, an art show that is scheduled to tour throughout Florida, at the request of the state's public libraries.
Entitlement (by: Blindman - 2/20/2013)
Mr. Leavitt appears a bit audacious about our tax money and just who does he plan to draw to Highlands County? And just what kind of culture does he have in mind? Sebring already has a problem over at Veterans Beach with homosexuality because of negative publicity... now Mr. Leavitt be warned, you will not turn Sebring into a Durham NC.
Art and Culture (by: Mike PIrkkala - 2/20/2013)
Mr. Elwell is correct, it's time to consider the future. As distasteful as it may seem, wisdom might suggest working on attracting the visitors who could be distinguished as 'select' or 'high quality' tourist. The county has put itself into a corner catering to some seasonal folks who don't always appreciate that there are traffic laws and concepts like courtesy and respect for others and often make a negative impact on the quality of life here (except for the buck$$.) Hootin' and hollerin' people like this area also for a couple of outstanding big ticket venues.
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