Princeton City Council

Princeton City Council member Brian Conger (left) was one of the community members Monday evening to offer feedback to the Princeton Tourism Commission as it pelops a proposal for how revenue from a city restaurant tax would be spent. The commission is set to meet again at noon Monday, March 18, at the tourist center at City Hall.

As the city's tourism commission continues to consider approaches for the use of revenue from a proposed restaurant tax, its members also continue to seek input from the community on the proposal and their ideas for the best use of funding.

Three of the commission's seven members were on hand for a public forum on the tax issue Monday evening -- the second of three listening sessions planned, said commission chair David Brown.

The proposal of a 3 percent restaurant tax, styled a "community development investment initiative," was first aired before the Princeton City Council in November, but council members declined to sponsor a tax ordinance at that time, citing a need for a concrete plan for the use of funds such a tax would generate.

Brown said Monday that the commission, as it develops such a plan, seeks "to be as open and honest with you, the people of Princeton, as we possibly can.

"We want you to know your opinion is valued and counted."

At the group's last forum, audience members received a list of 12 projects members had prioritized, narrowed from 57 original ideas and ranked on feasibility and tourism impacts.

Projects on the list range from promotion of summer festivals to upgrades at local parks, the development of walking and biking trails, the construction of a new Chamber of Commerce/tourism office, downtown restrooms and more.

The list remained unchanged Monday; Brown noted the commission had not met since that first forum. Now, Brown noted, the group is working to comply with a council request to refine the list into a more specific, business-plan-like format.

The commission, he said, is working to balance the plan with projects that would ensure the community received a full return from a restaurant tax, while also promoting the community to out-of-town visitors.

"We believe there's something for everybody," he said.

Those on hand for Monday's session weighed in with their own suggestions and recommendations.

Magistrate Jeff Simms noted a need to have funding to attract other lodging facilities, such as a name-brand hotel.

Oversight of the tax revenue is also an issue, he said, noting that the tourism commission, aside from having mayor-appointed members, only answers to the state.

"It's a huge factor as far as you all getting support," he said. "You don't answer to anybody -- the problem is, there's just another tax that we can't control."

Simms also encouraged the commission to work together with other civic and non-profit groups in the community to make sure any plans or proposals developed do not conflict with other plans already in the works.

Local resident Kelly Crisp, who spearheaded multiple tourist-related initiatives during his tenure as a city council member, urged the tourist commission to pursue a longer-range, larger-scale proposal.

The list presented, he said, is "a recipe for failure.

"You've got to have a 10-year plan," he said. "Your first plan has to be a big one."

Brown encouraged anyone with ideas for what that should be to speak up.

Others in attendance suggested a more strategic approach.

Council member Brian Conger encouraged the commission to keep working, but said he felt the list presented "is just going to be too overwhelming."

Those on hand Monday also debated the idea of following other counties' lead and hiring a commissioner to oversee the use of any tax dollars generated.

Local resident Bonnie Nichols said that idea could drive away support from the community. "I think a lot of people are scared that the money from the tax is just going to go to a job," she said.

Brown noted that that was the chief complaint he had heard regarding the tax idea.

Commission member and Deputy City Clerk Jenny Clark offered a different perspective. "All of us are just volunteer," she said. "It's really hard to do large-scale projects on a volunteer basis."

Member Allee Coleman suggested that explaining that need and the responsibilities of such a role in advance would help others in the community understand.

Brown said the commission would keep working on its proposal, and currently anticipates being prepared to present a rough draft of the plan to the council within 30 to 60 days.

The commission's next regular meeting is set for noon Monday, March 18, at the tourist welcome center at City Hall. Meetings are open to the public.