Council discusses county’s role in tourism spending
STRASBURG — Tourism revenues in Shenandoah County surged in the most recent year for which data is available from the county’s director of tourism and business development.
The director, Jenna French, told a work session of Strasburg Town Council on Monday that revenue in 2016 jumped by 4.8 percent over 2015, which translated into an additional $10 million.
“We are number one in the valley in terms of visitor expenditures,” French said. “Rockingham County is right on our heels, but I am competitive and I am determined to not let them surpass us, even though they are a very great partner.”
During her presentation, French described tourism as “a driver of employment here in Shenandoah County.”
But French’s presentation soon morphed into a discussion about how the county should treat Strasburg in tourism discussions.
Strasburg council members have complained about what they see as unfair treatment from the county. They have argued that the amount of money Strasburg brings the county in tourism dollars should result in more money from the county.
During Monday’s work session, council member Scott Terndrup argued that the town should receive $15,000 from the county in order to pay for some operation and maintenance costs for Strasburg’s visitor center.
“We’ve done very well” at earning tourism money, Terndrup said. “And I think in some sense, our visitor center should take some credit for that, since we’re the only brick and mortar visitor center in the county.”
French pointed out that there are other visitor centers in the county, although the ones French listed were all inside other buildings.
“We do actually have somewhat of a challenge in our community, in that we do actually have a visitor center in every single one of the towns” with the exception of Tom’s Brook, French said.
French added, “One of the challenges that I think we’ll face as a county is in the fairness, in that if we are contributing to one, do we need to contribute to all and be very equal across the playing fields there.”
But Terndrup argued that Strasburg, as well as New Market, should be given special consideration because of their locations.
Most tourists, he said, will go through Strasburg or New Market in their trip to Shenandoah County. Because of that, he argued, the visitor centers in the two towns should be treated differently by the county than the visitor center in Woodstock.
But while much of Monday’s discussion centered around whether the county might spend money on the town’s visitor center, council members did not push to see a reduction in the amount of money the town has to pay the county for tourism-related costs. Currently, one percent of Strasburg’s lodging tax goes to the county for tourism costs.
Several council members, including Terndrup, have said they were opposed to this. But on Monday, Terndrup said that he would not include a provision that eliminates the one percent tax in his proposal for the $15,000 in funds for the visitor center.
“We will continue our funding, our 1 percent, but this would give the county an ability to recognize the impact that our visitor center is having on the county as a whole,” Terndrup said.
At the end of the discussion about tourism spending, Town Council members decided that they would continue pressing the issue in a discussion with the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors. The date for that discussion has not been set.