Statement on the Tourism Development Fund Item in Work Session

June 6, 2017

Williamsburg, VA - During today’s monthly City Council work session, Williamsburg City Manager Marvin E. Collins, III presented an updated Tourism Development Fund concept to members of City Council and to the public. On the docket for Thursday’s meeting consists of a 2% increase on both meals (5%) and rooms taxes (5%) to 7% each. In addition, the City will establish an admissions tax of 7%. All three would amount to the single largest tax increase in the city’s history.

My concerns are as follows:

  1. A study is needed to articulate a vision for the proposed Tourism Development Fund. With every major initiative in the City, there is a deliberate manner handled to implement and execute policies. A study would outline best practices moving forward and assess the viability of proposed projects to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent judiciously and effectively.

  2. Lack of community input. The process started on the beginning of this year’s Finance Retreat, when a snapshot concept was introduced the Council. One citizen was present and the meeting was not broadcast to the public. An updated concept, with significant changes, was introduced at the April Work Session, spurring community conversation. Based on the public reaction so far, many citizens and organizations have mixed feelings about the current proposal. How does the City expect to succeed with this major initiative when there is a lack of faith and consensus from our partners?

  3. More questions than answers. It was evident in yesterday’s work session that Councilmembers were not on the same page, beginning with defining the crucial policy question of “generational change” regarding tourism infrastructure development, and even the composition of the TDF review committee board. The potential return-of-investment (ROI) is unknown, notably what kind of tourism product the Tourism Development Fund would be funding. How can we expect our city businesses and residents to shoulder a greater burden when the ROI is uncertain?  

Zhang said, “We must be deliberate in our policy-making process; we can afford to wait until a study is completed. We cannot just raise and spend taxpayer dollars through a rushed process. What I will be voting on Thursday must meet the test of how exactly the Tourism Development Fund is in the best interests of city residents, businesses, and the city burdened by the tax increases. We must not rush to pass something that could have such an impact on the city.”