MAYVILLE - What happens when you grow up?
That was the question posed by Dan Dalpra following the legislature meeting earlier this week.
At the meeting, legislators upheld a decision they made last month to cut tourism funding from the Bemus Bay Pops. Dalpra owns the Italian Fisherman in Bemus Point and is president of the Pops.
Dalpra posed the question because legislators said during the meeting that the Pops has "aged out" of its eligibility for tourism funding. Not satisfied with that explanation, Dalpra questioned what happens next for events such as his.
"We're no longer in the infant stage," Dalpra said. "We've become a fairly stable thing. ... But what happens when you grow up? Try to imagine what it would be like if we stopped this program right now and the effect it would have, not just on Bemus Point, but on the entire region. When you stop to think, the impact this has on real estate, housing, the boating industry and everything else associated, the effect is huge."
Dalpra continued on to suggest that the legislature should consider writing a dedicated funding stream for the Pops into its bed tax bylaws - something separate from the pot of money for which events compete each year.
The tourism money which was cut from the Pops comes from the county's bed tax revenues, not the general budget.
There is a 5 percent occupancy tax in Chautauqua County, charged to people staying in hotels, motels and inns. Of the total 5 percent charge, 2 percent goes to fund waterways projects and a portion of the 3 percent goes to fund tourism projects.
Each year, event organizers apply for funding from the 3 percent pot of money. A seven-member panel prioritizes the many applications and the legislature doles out as much money as it can to the tourism projects deemed most worthy of receiving funding. The theory behind the system is that money generated through the bed tax should go back to festivals and events which will then draw more tourists to the area, and thereby generate more bed tax revenue.
In 2009, the legislature added language to the application for tourism funding. Events can now only receive funding for three years. Legislators have explained that the limit is meant to make the bed tax funding serve as seed money, helping to make events stable and self-sufficient. After three years of funding, an annual event should be able to stand on its own legs without any help from the county and the money it was receiving can then go to fund other start-up tourism events.
Dalpra questioned where that leaves events such as the Pops which is no longer in its infancy, but is still struggling in its young adulthood.
"Organizations like ours are very fragile," Dalpra said. "Every penny counts."
In total, the Bemus Bay Pops has received $51,081 in bed tax revenues throughout the last five years - $12,500 in 2007, $10,000 in 2008, $15,000 in 2009. $9,806 in 2010 and only $3,775 in 2011.
The annual summer series of events is still receiving $3,775 from the county this year, but will now not receive an additional $8,705.
According to Dalpra, that amount had been budgeted into the 2011 Pops season - and the effects of losing it are not yet known.
"We're disappointed, obviously," Dalpra said. "We planned this into our budget, having applied a year ago and then being advised that we were awarded the money in November. We go ahead and start planning months in advance for this thing, so at the last hour to have it pulled away is difficult for us. We don't make a lot of money on this. Everything we do is put back into it. We'll have to go back and take a look and see how we can get through the rest of the season without the funding.
"I think overall they need to look at the bigger picture," Dalpra continued. "The Bemus Bay Pops has evolved into a multiple-type programming situation, so what do we have to do then to be eligible? Do we create companies for each one of our organizations like the Idol, Pops concert series, the movies and all the different things? As we continue to develop new programs, I think you have to look at the fact that you still are seeding the Bemus Bay Pops, you're seeding these projects. Hopefully they'll understand that, and we'll be able to work this out."