August 12, 2013

London looked to Somerset for advice when establishing tourism commission

By Rob McDaniel
Staff Writer


The London City Council held a special-called meeting Thursday for the second reading of an ordinance establishing a tourism and convention commission for the purpose of promoting and developing convention and tourism activities and facilities.

The second reading comes only days after Mayor Troy Rudder and the council announced the city would establish an independent tourism and convention commission for the city.

Prior to the first reading of the ordinance, Rudder made it clear the decision wasn’t made in an attempt to indict the London-Laurel Tourist Commission in any way, but said it was time for the city to develop their own vision for the future. 

“It’s not saying anything against what’s already in place, but there comes a time when you have to take control and decide your own direction,” Rudder stated in Monday’s meeting.

Rudder went on to say he had spoken with Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler and was confident that a city tourism and convention commission is in the best interest of the people of London.

Girdler faced similar controversy when the decision was made to establish a tourism and convention commission for Somerset.  Girdler said he prefers a separate city tourism agency rather than a joint partnership.

“Somerset and London are very similar,” Girdler said.  “We are in the same situation. We have to provide jobs, economic growth and services.  We are not doing our jobs if we don’t take advantage of these opportunities for revenue.”

Somerset enacted an ordinance to establish their own city tourism and convention commission on July 1.  So far, Girdler says it has been “very positive.”

Somerset is a third class city; while London is fourth class.  Unlike London, Somerset does not have the option to pass a restaurant tax, but they can levy a one percent of the transient room tax for convention facilities.

Girdler said the city was not doing a good enough job attracting travel and convention activities. 

“This is something we were lacking, and we have The Center for Rural Development,” he said.  “If we could have had a restaurant tax, we would have done this 10 years ago.”

Kentucky cities of the fourth and fifth classes that have established a tourist and convention commission may levy a restaurant tax, not to exceed three percent of gross retail sales of restaurants within the city.  Receipts are to be dedicated to the funding of the local tourism commission.

Girdler stated the primary reason for establishing a city tourism commission was revenue; but the secondary reason was for accountability.

“You have to promote the city,” Girdler said.  “Too long we’ve delegated those responsibilities.  Third-party boards – they’re not elected.  Not to speak ill of third-party boards, but the citizens expect us to do our jobs.  We should not form groups and organizations to delegate these responsibilities to. We’re accountable.

“We’ve always felt London has so much potential, being on I-75,” he continued.  “I admire what the Mayor (Troy Rudder) and council are doing, because they are looking to generate sources of funds to benefit their community.  It’s in the best interest of Somerset, and London, to maximize potential for revenue.”

Rudder said, to start, the London City Council will fund the new commission internally and the commission will explore other methods of funding at a later date.  Rudder said the city has no intention of pursuing the three percent transient room tax, which is the main source of income for London-Laurel Tourist Commission, but they could possibly add one percent to the tax if necessary. 

Due to several board members being out of town, the London-Laurel Tourist Commission has yet to make an official statement about the city’s decision; however, Kim Collier, co-director of the London-Laurel Tourist Commission, said she was disappointed by the recent development.

“I just really wish we could all work together to accomplish great things for London and Laurel County,” Collier said.