Boulder City Council’s Tuesday discussion of the 2020 budget led to debate that was momentarily bristly over the efficacy of potentially cutting funding to the agency in charge of marketing the city as a tourist destination.
It resulted from Councilwoman Lisa Morzel in an email proposing a decrease in allocating funds to the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau from the city’s collection of accommodations and food service taxes in order to put more money toward boosting the attractiveness of the City Sister’s Plaza on the northeast side of the Municipal Building at 1777 Broadway.
It would have been the second straight year of council decreasing funding to the Convention and Visitors Bureau after it cut the agency’s budget for 2019 by $126,000.
“Our 10 sister cities … each have given the residents of Boulder many beautiful gifts over the years,” Morzel said. “These unfortunately have not been showcased or shared much with our residents given the city has not had much of a display area.”
Council has the option of allocating up to 20% of annual revenues generated by Boulder’s 7.5% accommodations tax, also known as a lodging tax on hotel rooms, to the bureau.
Councilman Bob Yates, council’s liaison to the bureau, pointed out it funded $92,500 in grants to local organizations in 2019, including the Colorado Latino Festival, the Museum of Boulder, First Bite Boulder, Flatirons Food and Film Festival and the Boulder Philharmonic. That grant amount represented a reduction from what it handed out in 2018, in part because the cut for this year, Yates said.
“It’s a way for the accommodations tax to fund local community amenities, but if we wanted to cut that off or shift that over to (the city’s arts budget), we could certainly do that,” Yates said.
Councilman Aaron Brockett argued the extra tourists bureau efforts bring in more visitors helps boost city sales tax revenue beyond what residents would generate through their purchases, a notion supported by a recent study of retail trends in the city.
“Part of the danger here is that as you reduce (bureau) funding, maybe in the short you get a little bit, a small boost to the general fund, but in the long term, you very likely end up with declining city revenues overall,” Brockett said.
Councilwoman Cindy Carlisle disagreed Boulder risks losing status as a tourist destination by reducing bureau funding.
“Aaron, you think that some minor adjustment to this budget is going to make Boulder become no longer a destination?” Carlisle said.
Brockett responded, “Less so.”
Councilman Sam Weaver, who ran the meeting in the absence of Mayor Suzanne Jones, pushed council to agree to request the bureau pitch in funding toward the desired beautification of the Sister Cities Plaza.
“Rather than cutting their budget, we can signal to them, we are doing this thing that we think has a lot do with their program, and we are adding funding (from the city’s parks department) to do this,” Weaver said.
Ultimately, council also backed away from funding a renovation to add a Municipal Building doorway from the Sister Cities Plaza that city staff estimated would cost $700,000, and allocate that funding to the North Boulder Library project to bring a library branch to the area.
Council also agreed to consider taking a less-than-1% portion out of the city’s reserve funds, which would have hit a long-stated goal of 20% of Boulder’s budget this year, to put toward transportation project funding.
Weaver suggested city staff should place less focus than it originally planned on improving the appearance of medians, though, and instead emphasize safety improvements in light of recent crashes, including several involving bicyclists, on Boulder streets.