By David Armstrong

The Carmel-by-the-Sea City Council, in a special budget workshop held Tuesday, May 15, 2018, reviewed spending priorities for fiscal year 2018-19, which begins July 1. Firm decisions won’t be made until the council’s regular monthly meeting on June 5, but three points became clear by the end of the sparsely attended public meeting.

First, overall spending – largely supported by Measure D funds – is going up. Second, CBTS still has a lot of city jobs to fill. And third, the CRA’s bid to halt funding for the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau (MCCVB) by redirecting it to other, more pressing needs is bloody unlikely.

To wit:

Infrastructure improvement projects – such as a plan to repair and repave city streets – plus healthy salaries and pensions for city employees, are driving up the projected budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 to $25.47 million. That’s up 5 percent from fiscal year 2017-2018, or about $2 million dollars more. Almost all of the increase will be underwritten by Measure D funds, which will leave about $481,000 in residual Measure D monies.

As for open jobs, there are 17 of them, ranging from deputy city clerk to tree care specialist. The positions could cost up to $1.47 million in salaries. Sample salaries are $126,000 for a police officer and $116,000 for a senior human relations analyst.  Although, as councilmember Carrie Theis stated, recent hires have helped the city carry out some projects such as reworking and replanting the Scenic pathway above Carmel Beach, other haven’t happened because the city hasn’t staff to implement them.

Mayor Pro Tem Theis and Mayor Steve Dallas both said some positions are likely to be privatized by using contractors. “We have to have a balance between privatization and staff,” Theis said. “It’s incumbent on the city administrator to find that balance. Employees are a long-term solution.”

The CRA Board of Directors has proposed redirecting almost $183,000 of city money earmarked for the MCCVB to restoration of Mission Trail Nature Preserve and removal of native and non-native invasive plants to strengthen and beautify the Carmel Beach bluffs above the sands.

This drew strong objections from Theis, who told the gathering that a lecture in marketing 101 was needed. Carmel needs to market at every level to promote its vital tourism business, said Theis, part-owner of her family’s Hofsas House Hotel and a prominent member of the city’s tourism industry. Theis’s scolding came after the public comment period, so members of the audience couldn’t reply.

CRA President Barbara Livingston and board members Dick Stiles and Georgina Armstrong all spoke in favor of withholding CBTS’s funding from the MCCVB, which is scheduled to rise $6,130 to $182,993 in the next fiscal year. A number of other Monterey County cities, among them Salinas, Monterey and Pacific Grove, also contribute money annually to the non-profit tourism marketing organization.

Critics point out that Carmel already benefits from destination marketing by Visit California, a state organization that promotes Golden State tourism nationally and internationally with a $120 million budget; Visit Carmel, which markets the city with $120,000 in public funds, and the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, which received $33,000 in city money in fiscal 2017-2018 and has asked for $30,000 in fiscal 2018-2019. A Restaurant Business Improvement district, launched in part with public funds, is also expected to go into effect to market downtown restaurants to tourists. All told, the city spends almost $334,000 a year on destination marketing. Opponents maintain that layering MCCVB funds on top of other efforts is redundant, especially in an already famous and popular destination like Carmel.

Tourism professionals were organized and out in force to repel the assault on public largesse to their industry. Amy Herzog of Visit Carmel spoke of synergistic effects of the MCCVB’s national and overseas marketing which she said complement Visit Carmel’s regional marketing efforts. John Lloyd, owner of the Pine Inn, also spoke on the MCCVB’s efforts, as did Rob O’Keefe, the organization’s chief marketing officer. MCCVB board member – and CRA board member – Janine Chiccourat said it is money well spent and argued that “marketing is a very intangible science,” an attempted rebuttal of critics who say that the MCCVB hasn’t proven that it is a prime driver of visitations to the city.

Dallas scored the MCCVB for not paying enough attention to Sunset Center, Carmel’s prime performance venue, and councilmember Caroline Hardy suggested withholding half – $60,000 – from Visit Carmel for a mid-year performance review, but they won no support from colleagues.

Bottom line: Looks like it will be business as usual on June 5. Public money will again flow from Carmel-by-the-Sea to the MCCVB.