Gettysburg Borough is looking to create more transparency at Destination Gettysburg (DG), Adams County’s Destination Management Organization (DMO). The organization, one of about 50 across the state, is funded by the state’s lodging (“pillow”) tax with a mission of bringing visitors to the county.
A committee made up of borough council board members Patti Lawson and John Lawver, along with community members Wendy Allen, Ron Frenette, and Judi McGee, spent the past year studying DG as well as nine other similar DMOs across the state. Gettysburg College Professor of Public Policy Ann Douds and two college interns worked with the committee as independent consultants.
The project resulted in a 12- page white paper that was sent this week to county commissioners and other local officials.
“I’m grateful for the work they did,” said Lawson
The lodging tax, which totaled $2,647,813 in 2018, is collected by Adams County, which receives 4.5 percent of the tax as an administrative fee. 75 percent of the remaining revenue goes to Destination Gettysburg, while Adams County takes another 12.5 percent. The remaining 12.5 percent is divided among the borough municipalities who have both lodging establishments and a police force. In addition to Gettysburg, these municipalities are Cumberland Township, and the boroughs of Carroll Valley, Fairfield, and New Oxford. Gettysburg borough received an estimated $172,000, or 5.6 percent of the total tax, in 2018
The research compared DMOs in terms of their policies and procedures. Lawson said that, like most other DMOs, DG did not make their budget public. “When an agency is collecting taxpayer dollars to not have the transparency seemed a conundrum for us,” said Lawson.
Lawson said the committee would move forward by asking DG to develop and follow “best practices.” “Who’s on the board? Should the people who receive lodging tax serve on the board? Should the budget be available to the public? Should staff members receive company cars? Our goal now is to develop best practices and be a model,” said Lawson.
In addition to its lack of transparency Lawson also expressed frustration that the processes by which organizations could apply for DG grants was not transparent and that so few of DGs funds were spent on borough activities. Lawson said her committee was not trying to get more money for the borough council, but to advocate for other community agencies. “How do we get a fairer and more transparent distribution of monies? We should be working together in partnership,” said Lawson.
Douds clarified her role in the project saying “I want to be explicit that we are 100 percent agnostic as to the data. We did not set out to find out how to get any money from anywhere. What we set out to do is to identify best practices amongst an empirically-founded sample of DMOs in PA.”
Lawson noted there was expected to be a leadership change in the near future at DG and that now might be a good time to create more transparency.