LITTLE VALLEY -- The time has come for the Cattaraugus County Legislature's Tourism and Development Committee to distribute 2009 tourism promotion grants totaling $200,000 and to begin discussions about a departmental reorganization.
But in a surprise move last week, Joe Williams, interim director of the county's Economic Development, Planning and Tourism Department, said he intends to get in line with area organizations next week to request some of the grant money during a joint session of the Legislature's Development and Agriculture Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee.
"Joe would like to keep money in-house and let the county do what it can with it," said Jim Snyder, R-Olean, a senior member of the Development and Agriculture Committee, who has for several years pressed to move tourism and economic development out of the county seat in Little Valley.
"Joe is a rookie, and he has to learn how to work with the legislators," Snyder said, but added that he doesn't intend for the money to be taken from the tourism groups, which have commitments to pay for 2009 promotions.
At budget time last fall, five groups requested a total of $295,787 for events advertising and other promotions out of a proposed $110,000 allocation, but lawmakers decided to defer the awards for several months and to add $90,000 to the fund, creating a new Tourism Promotion Grant Program line item.
During last week's Development and Agriculture Committee meeting, Snyder confronted Williams, demanding to know if Williams has been contacting tourism businesses and asking them to forget about the grants.
"I'm putting on a county presentation," Williams replied, adding, "We've never been invited to be a player, we've never had money to market the county until the Bicentennial Wagon Train and the (Bicentennial) Committee put on an outstanding promotion."
"We have a lot to offer," Williams told the Development and Ag Committee members, referring to his department, and said three of the four Chambers expressed support for his suggestion to work together.
Linda Witte, D-Olean, complained to the committee members on behalf of concerned members of the Greater Olean Chamber of Commerce about talks to spin off the Tourism Department and staff an independent "Tourism Bureau" in Ellicottville. She said it seemed like the decision had already been made and the committee's Jan. 28 discussions "sounded like Albany and 'three men in a room. "
At that meeting, a one-page department restructuring outline was presented, describing the Tourism Bureau's 13-member board, to include representatives from the 10 legislative districts, two at-large representatives and the chairman of the County Legislature.
Board members would have marketing, business ownership or investing experience, and be dedicated to the "progressive and positive growth of Cattaraugus County" and funding could begin in 2010 from Seneca casino and bed-tax revenue.