July 31 editorial: City, tourism bureau need to get it right with tax money

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THE ISSUE: City, tourism squabble OUR VIEW: Protocol is needed

By The Staff

When the much-debated 2 percent restaurant tax was enacted Oct. 1, 2007, in Elizabethtown, we are certain those who contribute to that nest egg for various community projects didn’t expect some of the funds to be used for popcorn machines, an ice maker and a VCR/DVD player for the Historic State Theater.

But that is what has come to light through a recent open records request as reported in a story this week in The News-Enterprise, “$24K restaurant tax request denied.”

The city wants the Tourism and Convention Bureau to pick up a $24,000 tab for State Theater-related items. Tourism has every right to balk at using restaurant tax money for those types of items, especially when it appears to have been an out-of-the-blue request.

That there are “who pays?” issues brings to light what many have long believed: The city and the tourism bureau aren’t on the same page of the playbook.

But even more insulting is State Theater Executive Director Dana Beth Lyddan’s suggestion that it was necessary for movie consultant Murray Horwitz to have meals outside of the community that will be served by his services and pay his fee.

Lyddan said you want to put your best foot forward in introducing them (Horwitz) to the area. She felt it was appropriate to take Horwitz to cities such as Louisville and Bardstown, both of which have thriving downtowns that Elizabethtown wants to emulate.

She said Elizabethtown’s lack of locally owned establishments inspired a $240 trip in May to Jack Fry’s Restaurant in Louisville. Lyddan and Horowitz were responsible for $120 of the total bill, records show. A third party paid the remaining $120.

No matter how you slice it, that’s a slap in the face to the locals. To 98 percent of Elizabethtown residents, the price tag on the meal would be considered excessive. The other 2 percent live life high on the hog, or can place such items on an expense report for someone else to pay.

It would take $12,000 worth of meal purchases in Elizabethtown to equal the $240 bill from restaurant tax money that was requested. That’s a lot of meals.

Additionally, another meal for the consultant and two guests was for more than $100 at Kreso’s in Bardstown, a trip Horwitz himself requested.

Mayor David Willmoth approved the consultant expenses, but that apparently was news to council members. And why would a non-itemized bill be acceptable for payment? Lyddan said she had an itemized receipt for the meal at one point, but not now. The city should make it clear to all that any non-itemized bill will not be paid.

The tourism board voted down a request to foot the bill earlier this month, citing that the bureau and city had not agreed upon the purchases.

The restaurant tax was a tough sell to the public. It is even more difficult to accept to think that it cost nearly $6,000 for someone’s opinion and a meal ticket that in the eyes of many was way too much.

We are who we are in Elizabethtown. Why should we showcase to a consultant what other cities have? Surely someone here is smart enough to figure out what this town needs downtown?

In the future, it would seem that a little more communication along North Mulberry is needed to avoid further embarrassments.

-  This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.