NEW ULM - The 2013-14 New Ulm Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) budget was presented Tuesday for review to the New Ulm City Council and was accepted unanimously.
Councilor Ruth Ann Webster led the Council in questioning how the budget operates and seeking general information on the CVB.
The budget was initially presented to the Council on Aug. 6, but it was tabled because some information was missing. New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce President Audra Shaneman answered questions.
The current 2012-2013 CVB budget reported $96,000 in income and $96,000 in expenses, while the 2013-2014 CVB budget estimated $97,400 for income and $97,400 for expenses. The income comes from local lodging tax and is supposed to be spent down. This year, the CVB is estimating, based on results up to June and historic trends, that it will reach its highest lodging tax collections on record.
CVB officials said the initial upswing last year was likely due to contractors for Menards and people attending the increasing number of local sporting tournaments staying overnight in New Ulm. Revenues have continued an unexpected upward trend this year, even after projects like Menards have been completed.
The CVB's contract with the Minneapolis-based Haberman Modern Storytellers firm was thoroughly discussed. The contract covers the CVB's recent Hermann's foot print landmark and the "Germans Have More Fun" campaigns, including the related website and Twitter account.
Shaneman said Haberman has been a major success in promoting local tourism and giving the CVB improved skills with social media and modern tourism trends. She said the "Germans" campaign got statewide media attention and won the "Tourism Marketing Award of Merit" from Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference last February.
The contract cost $50,000 in 2012 and $45,000 in 2013, with funding coming primarily from the CVB's Reserves account and some from new items like adding $10,000 to this year's advertising expenses. The expenses used up most of the CVB roughly $100,000 in combined reserves, though it has been replenished to $37,309 as of June.
Shaneman said the CVB felt is was appropriate to use reserves because the spending goes towards a special project that has long-term benefit, and because there is no Minnesota law requirement to have any reserves. However, she said the general policy is to refill all reserve funds used as quickly as possible. That goal is 50 percent of annual income, or around $50,000. The Haberman contract did not show up on the main budget presented Aug. 6 because the reserve account is recorded differently from the regular budget.
The Haberman contract will end in October. As a result, a new item was added to next year's budget - $10,950 annually for a part-time position to run the Twitter account for Hermann the German. The Twitter account promotes local tourism by responding to tweets in the style of the Hermann character. Haberman has run the account since the "Germans" campaign and offered to train the person taking over. The position will pay $15 per hour for two hours of using the account every single day.
Other newer items noted in the budget review included putting aside $1,500 annually towards the replacement of the tourism banners on New Ulm's main roads. The move saves up the $10,000 replacement banner cost over time instead of as a major expense every 10 years.
Webster thanked Shaneman for providing details about the budget, but she requested that the CVB notify the Council about major transfers of funds from the reserves or miscellaneous accounts in the future. Because the transfers usually do not end up in the budget, it's important to make a public note about the expense for the sake of transparency.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)