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Tourism brings in big dollars to Jefferson County

July 26, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN W.Va. — Tourism is a paying proposition in Jefferson County.

In 2010, according to a study by the West Virginia Division of Tourism, tourists visiting the county spent nearly $8 million, created about 7,000 jobs and generated more than $12 million in local taxes.

The numbers were part of a presentation Thursday to the Jefferson County Commission by John Whisenant, acting director of the newly reorganized Jefferson County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The lion’s share of the tourist dollars were spent at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, according to Whisenant and several county commissioners.

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Whisenant’s presentation included statistics showing that on an average day in 2010, tourists in Jefferson County spent more than $910,000 on gaming, $475,000 on restaurants and $250,000 on retail trade. The county ranked first in the state in tourist spending that year, according to the state tourism study.

Whisenant, from Nashville, Tenn., wears two hats. In addition to his job as acting director, he was hired as a consultant to guide the bureau through its reorganization process.

He ended his presentation Thursday by asking the commissioners to give the organization $150,000 a year for the next five years for a total appropriation of $750,000.

The agency needs the money, he said, “to build a firewall” to protect the casino and the revenue it brings to Jefferson County against competition from casinos in Maryland.

That state’s legislature has approved five casinos, two of which are up and running, and three that have been approved but not built.

The commissioners voted 4-1 to appropriate the $150,000 for this year. It will come from the county’s year-end budget surplus of $200,000. The commission also voted to give $50,000 of the surplus to the Jefferson County Animal Welfare Society, Commissioner Lyn Widmyer said.

Commissioner Dale Manuel cast the dissenting vote. He wants the surplus for the capital improvements fund to pay for needed county projects.

Voting in favor of the appropriation were Widmyer, Frances Morgan and Walter Pellish.

Pellish, who said he ran for commissioner to promote economic development and jobs, praised Whisenant and the agency.

“You people have done the impossible. You have reinvented the CVB in spite of criticism. You are the most dynamic force to move on economic development.” He said he will ask his commission colleagues “to make this investment.”

Widmyer voted for the appropriation because, “I’m convinced that our revenue from table games is at risk from competition. We need to promote other aspects of economic development and tourism. This looks particularly promising.”

Commission President Patsy Noland called the appropriation “a no-brainer. It’s an investment in our future.”

“This is a significant request,” said Commissioner Frances Morgan. “We have to ensure that the money is well spent and that we get a return on our investment.”

The JCVCB board of directors is expected to announce the hiring of a full-time executive director in the next few weeks at a salary range of $60,000 to $80,000.

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