When the St Johns County Board of Commissioners convenes tomorrow morning, Tuesday December 17th at 9:00 a.m., hopefully, Item 9 on the infamous “consent agenda” will be pulled for further, public discussion, instead of being acted on by little more than a voice vote.
The item, a motion to adopt a Resolution, approving the terms and conditions of an agreement between the St Johns County Board of County Commissioners and the City of St Augustine to provide for certain tourist related services and operation of the St Augustine St Johns County Visitors Information Center and authorizing the County Administrator, or designee, to execute the agreement on behalf of the County.
Tourist Development Council Director, Glenn Hastings, submitted the item with attachments to County Manager Michael Wanchick for approval to be placed on the consent agenda, which approval was granted.
If tomorrow’s agenda item is approved, the current agreement will be “backdated” to begin on October 1, 2013; making it legal for the City of St Augustine to receive county TDC funds — if it meets certain performance standards outlined in the “Scope of Services” and elsewhere in the ten-page Tourist Development Agreement. The term of the proposed agreement is three years — through and until 11:59 p.m., on September 30, 2016.
Bed tax funds have gone to the Visitor Information Center each year, in accordance with an agreement started in 2004. After the original $50.000 per year figure was put in place, the City came back to the TDC the next year with plans for “major infrastructure improvements”.
Consequently, the City was paid $100,000 the following year (2005) and increased to $200,000 per year in 2008 and 2009; tied to the occasion of the completion of the Historic Downtown Parking Facility and remodeling of the existing Visitor Information Center.
In 2010 the TDC contribution to the City for operation of the Visitor Center was dropped to $172,500; and, during the past three budget years, 2011, 2012, and 2013, the TDC contribution has been only $160,000.
Not a bad deal for the City, or is it? First, because any money paid to the City under this agreement originates from bed tax funds, it is not guaranteed that any amount anticipated under the agreement will be paid AT ALL. That’s right, at all.
Secondly, the money comes with a dozen specific conditions which must be performed to the satisfaction of the County that spell out what the City must do in order to fulfill the required “Scope of Services”.
1. Operate and maintain the VIC, daily from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. Subject to Section 21 (entitled “Force Majeure”) contained herein, the VIC will be open to visitors no less than 364 days per calendar year.
2. Provide adequate staffing, consisting of at least two (2) full-time and at least, sixteen (16) part-time, trained employees in the VIC. Staff shall be dedicated to assisting visitors and providing tourist-related information. Tourist-related information includes, but is not limited to, information regarding local attractions, amenities, accommodations and dining.
3. Establish a concierge desk within the VIC to assist visitors and to encourage longer stays in the area.
4. Provide designated areas within the VIC for viewing County-approved, promotional videos.
5. Endeavor to, in cooperation with the County and in accordance with all applicable local regulations, provide trained staff, dressed in period costumes, to greet and provide off-site assistance to visitors within the City’s Historic Preservation District. Such staff will be referred to as “On-the-Street-Hosts” and will provide visitor assistance no less than four (4) days per week weather permitting.
6. Implement programs to monitor and ensure that visitors are provided positive, accurate tourist-related information. The results of such programs will be reported to the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council no less than two times per year.
7. Develop and implement a hospitality training program to include curriculum materials, testing and certification for all VIC employees. A detailed description of the program, including training materials shall be provided to the County for review and approval within one hundred twenty (120) days after the date this Agreement is executed. The materials shall be revised annually and presented to the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council for review and comment.
8. Provide visitors with informative resources including, but not limited to, maps, materials promoting local attractions, and emergency preparedness guides.
9. Facilitate the County’s efforts to gather visitor information for marketing and research.
10. Provide free parking for tour buses.
11. Coordinate with the County to incorporate the VIC into, or develop, an emergency communications plan related to tourists or tourist activities.
12. Provide to the County monthly reports, which include the total number of visitors assisted by VIC staff, the type of assistance provided by staff, and any survey/poll/study results. Upon request by the County, provide additional information related to the VIC operations and host programs.
The cost to maintain the public facilities, electric and other utilities, insurance claims, and staffing, have to be paid by the City — regardless of the bed tax contribution. Section 4 of the proposed agreement provides for how and when any compensation from the Tourist Development Council will be paid.
The maximum amount available as compensation to the City for satisfactory performance of the Scope of Services, according to the agreement is “one hundred sixty dollars” — it should say one hundred sixty THOUSAND dollars, but what’s a few zeroes among friends.
The City “is not entitled to the above-noted amount of compensation as a matter of right”.
Rather, such compensation and reimbursable expenses are based upon the City’s satisfactory performance in accordance with the provisions contained in this Agreement.
Performance by the County is conditioned on, and subject to, specific annual appropriations by the Board of Tourist Development Tax revenues sufficient to pay the compensation described above.
So, in other words, the City must perform all of the lofty requirements established by the county, and, after it is over, they might get paid. Keep in mind, the City of St Augustine, NOT the County of St Johns, owns the Visitor Information Center; that, at one time, was operated by the St Johns County Chamber of Commerce for the same, or similar, purposes, and didn’t have to “perform” anything.
Several Historic City News readers have expressed an interest in operating the Visitor Information Center for the City on a guaranteed lease basis, however, the lease and operation of the Visitor Center has not been opened for bids or RFP’s, as occurred with the Spanish Quarter.
Before the County Commissioners vote on the consent agenda, there is an opportunity for public comments. If you are planning to attend — the regular meeting of the St Johns County Commission will begin at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday and will be held in the County Auditorium; on the first floor of the County Administration Palace located at 500 San Sebastian View in St Augustine. It will be broadcast live on Comcast Government TV (Cable Channel 3)