Would you like to advertise your town’s anniversary? Want some help promoting your community? Need extra funds to fix up a tourist attraction? There’s a group of people right here in Thayer County who might be able to help you with that.
The Visitor’s Committee of Thayer County is dedicated to the promotion of the county and its 11 communities, and its membership is eager to help anyone with the promotional projects for their towns and villages. But, they need to know what people want to better distribute the funding and that requires involvement, something the committee is not receiving.
The Visitors Committee, funded through a lodging tax, is made up of five voting members who determine when and where requested funds will be used. Voters include two people from the lodging industry and three people from the general public. “The president, vice-president and a commissioner-appointed person within the committee and the two people from the lodging industry make up the voting body,” said longtime member of the committee Shari Apking who is the commissioner-appointed voter for Thayer County.
“We try to direct the funds toward paying for towns’ advertising when they have an event, putting up signs, paying for paint and small improvements such as needed for the Pony Express picnic shelter south of Alexandria and the stone school north of Gilead.”
The Nebraska lodging tax was initiated several years ago and presented to each county who could choose to accept it or not. Taxes are levied on innkeepers of any type including Bed and Breakfasts, Apking said, noting that the tax is added to a patron’s bill, not the innkeeper’s actual business. “Later, an additional percentage was levied for what the statute terms ‘bricks and mortar,’” she added. “In other words, the initial tax is used for advertising and the like, and the second levy for creating or repairing facilities and signage.”
Apking said the committee doesn’t have a lot of money, there are only three motels adding to the pot, but of the funding they do have, it’s nice to know where to contribute.
“We ask the communities to send non-voting representatives so we know where and how to direct the funds,” Apking said. In fact, at the July meeting, Apking reported to the group that she had received no response from the letters sent to all 11 town boards; however, Deshler has since provided a new representative.
Lack of community representation is especially disconcerting to the Committee as they have no other means to pinpoint the local needs. Also, Apking notes, there’s been a big shake-up in Tourism. “It has been moved from the Department of Economic Development to Labor and a newly formed council,” she said. “Unless we are vigilant about spending our own funds, I’m afraid the new council will take them away from us.” In other words, if the Committee doesn’t use it, they’ll lose it.
Thayer County Commissioners are currently looking at the same situation with inheritance tax. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heinemann approached the Legislature last year with the idea of taking away the county inheritance tax funds and using them at the state level. Although the movement did not pan out, rumors are thick for the governor to make another try this year, therefore, county governments are looking at ways to use the inheritance tax funds to prove they are indeed, needed.
The local commissioners have long held that the inheritance tax fund is held for the most dire of times and strive to balance the budget without using it; however, if the security of it were removed, the county would surely need to pass the cost on to its property owners by raising the levy to conduct normal business.
If the lodging tax were no longer available to the county, the Visitors Committee would not be able to provide assistance with community projects and promotion and would simply disappear.
At its July meeting, the group ordered more Hebron Porch Swing buttons at a cost of $1,000; donated $5,000 to the train station project in Belvidere; received a request for more museum brochures; bought a fair barn quilt sign in support of the Thayer County Fair; and denied funding for a new Chester Auditorium sign due to its location just to name a few of its responsibilities as it goes about the business of promoting the county.
While the Committee stays actively involved in county projects and events such as providing doughnuts and water at the Pony Express Re-Run, members would like to see more community involvement from area residents and officials in order to meet the needs of the people.
If you are interested in becoming a member or wish to represent your community, the group meets once a month at the Thayer County Courthouse. To find out about upcoming meetings or to get more information about the Visitors Committee contact President Karen Keilwitz at 402-768-7409.