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Celebrating tourism

At the risk of being perceived as a bully, I received something in the mail yesterday that I can’t let get by without at least a mention.

A couple weeks ago maybe, I received a pre-printed invitation to a luncheon celebration the Suffolk Division of Tourism was staging at (where else?) The Hilton Garden Inn and Suffolk Conference Center in observance of the tourism bureau’s 5th anniversary.

God, has it been that long?

I hung onto it because tourism is about the only city department that still invites me to stuff. Obviously, they have not purged the mailing list in some time.

(On that note my invitation to the Business Appreciation Week outing at Harbor Park Tuesday must have gotten lost in the mail, by the way. Not that I would have gone, but it’s nice to be asked.)

Anyway, on Wednesday I received a large envelope from the Division of Tourism. It was more information about the June 6 celebration and how I could be a part of it by donating between $100 (which would make me a “tourism supporter” and would get me acknowledgement in the event program) and $1,000 (which would make me a “Platinum” sponsor and would reserve me a table of 10 seats, acknowledgement in the event program and in any related press releases. There were metallic sponsorship levels of varying values in between. Individual tickets are $25 each.

A city department spending taxpayer money to celebrate its anniversary. Hmmmmmmm. This so fraught with sarcasm potential it’s tough to figure out where to begin, but I’ll try.

Instead of stroking a check, I reached for my handy dandy copy of the city budget. In the past three years, I, and the rest of you, have funded the Department of Tourism to the tune of $1,341,287. That includes the half-a-million proposed for this year. I can’t recall what the department’s budget was in its first two years, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s say it was about $250,000 a year. That’s about 1.84 million of our tax dollars that have been put into the tourism department over this five years we’re fixing to fete, the equivalent of 2.453 cents of our tax rate in this year’s dollars. So, I figure, the average homeowner in Suffolk n the one in that home that was assessed last year at $250,000 n has already given the tourism department $80. Obviously that’s not enough and we should be paying more money for the privilege of worshipping them.

I think the money we’ve already given for tourism ought to entitle every one of us to a reserved seat at the Hilton luncheon.

Instead of celebrating five years of “Suffolk’s tourism success and potential,” we should be celebrating five years of the citizenry’s generosity in funding the tourism department and the incredible self-control it has exhibited in resisting the urge to rise up and overthrow the government in response.

Yeah, but there’s no way the Hilton could hold us all, so how about the employees of the department deliver a nice, hot Poppa John’s pizza and a “thank you” to every homeowner who has been kind enough to pony up. Some 22,500 pizzas at about 10 bucks a pop would consume less than half the department’s proposed budget for 06-07.

Please don’t get me wrong, I know those folks in tourism work hard promoting Suffolk for all of us, bringing in those tourism dollars so our taxes don’t have to go up every year. Thank goodness for that. It’s hard to tell what we would be paying were it not for them.

In all seriousness, though, I really do think the world of Lynette White, the tourism director, and can think of nobody who’s a better champion for Suffolk, even though she will probably never speak to me again. She really does earn every penny she gets, regularly pulling night and weekend duty. And I admire her for her dedication and enthusiasm. We would be fortunate if there were more like her serving us.

It’s just the principal of the thing. I for one am tiring of city officials’ seemingly insatiable need to be constantly celebrating themselves so much with balls, cruises and parties, most of which are on the taxpayer dime. Obviously, with the effort to find sponsorships, the hope is to defer some of the cost to taxpayers for this event, but even if they raise enough to fund entire event, it still takes limited promotional dollars out of our community that perhaps might have otherwise been spent with local businesses that sell advertising or media services and who have to depend on those dollars to meet payrolls and pay bills. It’s also the same pot from which charitable contributions come, decreasing what is available to those folks.

And for what? I don’t know. Who thinks this stuff up? I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a City Official Hall of Fame on the drawing board somewhere, complete with bronze plaques and black tie dinners at the Hilton, of course.

I really don’t like having to be so mean and petty. Our city’s little tourism department, like it’s little newspaper, is an easy target for jerks like me and if I’ve crossed the line here, I guess I’m prepared to take whatever you folks think I deserve, but somebody needs to say something.