Berkeley Co.'s parks, tourism groups getting by with less

February 02, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Berkeley County's public recreation and tourism agencies, which rely heavily on tax revenue collected from people staying at area hotels and other lodging businesses, have had to operate with less since the economic recession hit the area.

Yet, even with the decrease of about $25,000 in "hotel/motel" tax revenue last year and receiving $28,000 less from the county, Martinsburg-Berkeley County Parks & Recreation Board Executive Director Steve Catlett told Berkeley County Council on Wednesday that the agency has maintained staff and increased programming and facilities for disc golf, an indoor skate park and indoor soccer and other amenities.

"I think that speaks highly of our board, of our staff as to the job that we're performing," Catlett said in his budget presentation to the council.

If the recreation board's share of hotel/motel taxes is subtracted from the agency's budget, the amount of local tax support per county resident drops to less than $2.50, said Catlett, who described the lodging tax revenue as its "saving grace."

Catlett asked county officials to restore $28,000 in operating money for a total allocation of $100,000 and for an additional $50,000 for capital improvements. Catlett said the Board of Education's allocation will increase by $12,500 per year, which was made possible when voters approved the renewal of the excess levy.

Catlett said the board also would ask the City of Martinsburg for $100,000 this year, noting the prospect of opening a second recreation center, possibly at Musselman High School's campus

Former county magistrate and sheriff W. Randy Smith has committed funding to building the facility in Inwood, W.Va., and Catlett said land on the south side of high school is being eyed for the project.

While the impact on the quality of life for southern Berkeley County will be substantial, Catlett said the recreation board has to be careful not to overextend itself.

"The last thing we want to do is to add facilities, add parks to our system and then not maintain them properly," Catlett said.

Catlett said they manage 16 parks with three full-time maintenance staff and utilize the county sheriff's community service program and volunteers.

"It's a real challenge with our budget," Catlett said of maintenance demands. Catlett said the recreation board "couldn't live without" the community service program.

Catlett noted that the 60-acre, Clearbrook Park just across the county line in Frederick County, Va., alone has six full-time maintenance staff year-round, excluding seasonal workers.

While not committing to increasing the county's allocation to the recreation board, Council member Doug Copenhaver commended Catlett and board members for their efforts, noting they had been "squeezing a quarter out of a nickel for many years."

While Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau also had to absorb less hotel/motel tax revenue, executive director Andrea Ball said there have been some positive tax figures as recently as December 2010.

Roughly half of the tourism promotion agency's $450,000 budget is supported by the hotel/motel tax, according to figures that Ball provided after the meeting. The agency also receives state grant funding, Ball said.

The CVB's budget includes $70,000 allocated for the Pickin' in the Panhandle, the state BBQ and Bluegrass Festival. Started five years ago by the CVB, the festival is slated for Sept. 9-11 this year.

While the event is not a revenue generator by itself, Ball said the CVB is focused on growing attendance, which exceeded 8,000 last year.

Ball said officials have estimated that each ticket holder spends about $100 in addition to the money spent on tickets. About 3,500 attended the first event, Ball said.

"I'm thrilled with that growth," Ball said.

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