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Board bickers over budget for tourism

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By Alice Du Pont

The Gadsden County Board of Commissioners, by a 3-2 vote, approved the Tourist Development Council's 2011-2012 budget but not without nearly an hour of discussion. As soon as interim County Administrator Arthur Lawson announced the item, Commissioner Gene Morgan made a motion to approve, which was immediately seconded by Commissioner Doug Croley, provided there were no questions.
    But there were plenty of questions from Commissioner Brenda Holt and Commission Chairman Sherrie Taylor for TDC Board of Directors chairman Jeff DuBree.
    Taylor made it clear that she could not support the budget as presented because there were too many unanswered questions. First, she said, there was no way of measuring whether funds spent over the past two years had been effective and that asking for an increase in funding was not and item she could support. She suggested the BoCC could host several events throughout the year that would bring tourists to the county.
    "That way we could better direct our dollars," Taylor said.
    She said she also had a problem supporting a budget that would give one company, outside of the county, money for work that could be done by local companies. Taylor said she had recently seen an invoice from Ron Sachs Communications for $15,000 and there was no explanation or any supporting documentation, "just a sheet of paper," she said.
    "I don't think this company has branded this county. You can't pick up a magazine and see something that immediately brings Gadsden County to mind. I want to have a meeting to make sure that," she said.
    Morgan, the commission's representative to the TDC said the company had done a good job for the county and pointed to the recent opening of Dean Mitchell's exhibit at the Gadsden Arts Center. The company, he said, had placed Mitchell on the Southern Living magazine's blog that has 2.7 million
 viewers and on the magazine's website that had 77,000 hits.
    Taylor told DuBree that she appreciated all of the volunteer time he gives as chairman of the TDC but that she would like a meeting with the BoCC and the TDC board that will be open to all citizens within the next two weeks. The meeting, she said, would make sure that the TDC and BoCC have parallel visions about the marketing of he county and its resources.
    One of the reasons DuBree wanted the budget approved is because the TDC and State of Florida have the same budget year, from July 1 to June 30. The BoCC's fiscal year starts Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30.
    taylor wanted the meeting prior to approving the budget but Morgan, Croley and Lamb voted to pass the budget and then hold the meeting, saying that the TDC's budget can always be amended.
    "We need a meeting because there is a definite disconnect. We (the TDC) are moving forward in a very solid direction," Morgan said.
    In other matters, commissioners:
    •  approved the selection of Kimley-Horn & Associates to administer the Florida Department of Transportation-funded grant to prepare a countywide bicycle and pedestrian master plan.
    • discussed the process for amending the Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Development Code to allow Solar Energy Farms as a permitted use By Right in Agricultural Land use Districts.
    • supported the Gadsden County School District's appreciation Fun Day from the progress students made on the FCAT in 2010-11 school year. The day-long activity is planned for Saturday, Aug, 20, at Cory Field on Graves Street in Quincy.