Dell holds budget ax over Carroll Office of Tourism Gouge, others rally to agency's defense

January 20, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

If the budget crunch worsens, the Carroll County Office of Tourism may "fall by the wayside," Commissioner Donald I. Dell told the Carroll County Tourism Association yesterday.

But Commissioner Julia W. Gouge was friendlier to the association when she talked to the 60 members gathered for a meeting.

Both commissioners praised the association's efforts to bring business to the county. But they differed on the tourism office, a county agency that coordinates and publicizes many activities for the association.

"Our job is to bring people here to spend their dollars and to enjoy the atmosphere and friendliness," said Joan Meekins, program administrator for the Office of Tourism. "We want tourists to come with their minds set to spend the day."

Mr. Dell left the meeting on a pessimistic note when he said he was not sure a budget tightened any further could sustain the tourism office.

He said that if he has to choose between repairing pot holes and promoting tourism, the pot holes would get his vote.

"If tourism drives up the county budget, it might have to fall by the wayside," he said. "We can't let the nuts and bolts of government suffer, and we have to rationalize where we put our dollars."

For fiscal 1993, the Office of Tourism's budget was $119,400, about 1 percent of the county's total budget of $119,359,860.

Commissioner Gouge said the "small amount of dollars" for tourism "goes a long way," and association members "make those dollars go farther." She called promoting tourism "extremely important" to the county's economic development, which she said the board of commissioners has not made "a high priority."

"Not too many years ago, we were considered to be a hick county out in the country," Mrs. Gouge said. "We have turned that around in a positive and forward way. We have a lot to offer Maryland and the surrounding states."

The "education process" should continue, she said, as she urged association members to speak out.

"Give us your examples with actual dollar numbers, so we can see the trickle effect," she said. "We want to know when special events increase business."

Ms. Meekins also urged members to "keep figures" on where their customers come from, how much they spend and where. Each event causes a "rippling effect" on other county businesses, she said.

Mrs. Gouge asked for invitations on any familiarization tours the office might schedule.

"There is no reason why we couldn't take a day to tour Carroll County sites," she said. "We have visited incinerator plants in other counties several times."

Ms. Meekins said she does not believe her department's budget is in jeopardy. "I have been operating on a small budget since I came here 2 1/2 years ago," she said. "We have found inexpensive ways to get the word out, and many county agencies who are willing to help."

Janet Hollinger, who represented Historic Uniontown at the meeting, said the commissioners have a responsibility to the entertainment community.

"Tourism affects indirectly every business in the county," she said.

Carol Donovan, Westminster's activities director, said Mr. Dell fails to realize the importance of a coordinated effort, organized by the Office of Tourism, to bring business to the county.

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