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Funding hike rejected for tourism marketing Legislature to reconsider request by Convention & Visitors Bureau

Erie County lawmakers said "no" Thursday to a request for $2.1 million in new funding for the region's tourism marketing efforts but left the door open to considering the request next year.

Lawmakers support new funding for the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau but object to the way County Executive Joel A. Giambra wanted to supply it: using money that would otherwise go into a rainy day account.

The Legislature sent Giambra's request to committee, a defeat for the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the two groups pushing for more aid to the CVB.

"It's by no means dead nor should it be," Majority Leader Maria A. Whyte, a Buffalo Democrat, said of CVB funding. "We're willing to look at phasing in a full dedication of the bed tax."

Under Giambra's proposal, the county would have set aside $2.1 million in the existing budget, a move that would lower the $21.7 million surplus and reduce the amount of money going into the county's reserve accounts.

The deal ultimately would have designated all of the county's hotel bed tax revenue -- an estimated $6.4 million next year -- for use by the tourism bureau.

In return, the bureau would have begun funding several tourism-related expenses now paid by the county, including the downtown convention center. The group also would have given the county $1 million in each of the next two years.

"We are sorely disappointed," Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Partnership, said of the Legislature's decision. "We feel it is unwise to continue to ignore a target industry that employs 15,000 people, generates $650 million in direct spending and more than $50 million in sales tax revenue."

Lawmakers say they support increased funding for the tourism bureau but that the increase needs to be phased in over a few years.

Their reluctance to do more stems from a need to increase reserves, a vital step in the eyes of Wall Street. Right now, the county's subpar credit rating costs taxpayers millions of dollars because of higher interest rates.

"We're working mightily to rebuild that fund balance," said Legislature Chairwoman Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda.

CVB supporters argue that increased funding for the tourism bureau makes economic sense because it translates into more visitors, and that means more revenue from the sales and bed taxes.

Tourism officials say the goal is to better market the county's premier attractions and exploit the public investment in projects such as the Darwin Martin House and inner harbor.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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