Smiths Falls chamber seeks increase in visitor services funding, tourism coordinator

Victoria Park in Smiths Falls is a busy spot for tourists and residents alike througout the summer season. (Jan. 13, 2024) – Laurie Weir/Lanarkist

Will the need for consolidated visitor and tourism services between the chamber of commerce and the economic development and tourism branches cause an increased budget deficit for the Town of Smiths Falls?

Leslie Richardson, the Smiths Falls and District Chamber of Commerce executive director, asked the town for additional funding for visitor services. Over the past two years, the town has paid $12,000 annually for this service. Richardson said she’d also like to see a tourism coordinator.

Increased use of Victoria Park, and “crime, drug use and vandalism,” is on the rise, she noted, causing a need for two staff members present during each shift, “for safety reasons.”

With the current fee structure, the chamber is only able to operate with one student per shift, with management having to be available at all times. Services are provided seven days a week, from May through October, with on-call and emergency response mechanisms in place if any situation arises that needs attention.

To operate visitor services, Richardson said they require a fee of $45,000, with an additional $5,000 in operational expenses. “The chamber is currently responsible for purchasing toilet paper, soap, light bulbs … all of it,” she said, “the landscaping, and the costs do add up.”

Richardson said the community grant is not the proper place to receive this funding. “We would like to see an updated agreement for funding through the operational budget,” she said.

Tourism is vital to the local economy, and to the small business owners, she stressed. “This model was successfully implemented by the Town of Carleton Place, and the Carleton Place and District Chamber of Commerce,” she said, as they’ve hired a tourism coordinator to produce the Visitor Guide, create compelling social media, and manage the tourism website. “And they do all of this for $80,000.”

Richardson said the Visitor Guide (digital and printed copies) is a meaningful tool to showcase the town’s assets. She indicated that Smiths Falls will be the only community represented by Lanark County Tourism at the Ottawa Travel and Vacation Show in April without a Visitor Guide. Crowder indicated that they were coming out with a visitor map instead this year, with all the same information, but more cost effective.

If the chamber remains responsible for visitor services, Richardson said they’re seeking $50,000, but if the town wishes the chamber to take on a more fulsome role, they would be happy to work with Julia Crowder, the town’s manager of economic development and tourism, to come up a plan.

Coun. Chris McGuire said Richardson’s request was “compelling.” He suggested that they take a look at the number of visitors coming to the town hall and if they can redirect any funding going in that direction, or consolidate services.

“I love your example of the Carleton Place chamber because I think they are really ‘Gold Standard’ in Lanark County,” Coun. Jennifer Miller said.

Coun. Jay Brennan said he’s looking forward to seeing this plan come to fruition as “there is so much potential (at Victoria Park).”

Council suggested Crowder and Richardson meet to discuss a strategy that could work for the 2024 fiscal year.

“If it’s not the perfect strategy, at least it’s an interim one,” said Coun. Peter McKenna who chaired the meeting. “Assign responsibilities, cost that out and come back within a reasonable time,” as this will have ramifications on the budget deliberations.

Malcolm Morris, the town’s chief administrative officer, said Crowder had requested monies in her budget for a tourism coordinator. “To go from $12,000 to $45,000, there is an impact on the budget,” Morris said. “My suggestion to staff is to have a conversation to see what that looks like and negotiate something that is in the interest of both parties and bring that back to council to see if that fits into the current $830,000 deficit you’re currently facing.”

Malcolm Morris, the town’s chief administrative officer, said Crowder had requested monies in her budget for a tourism coordinator. “To go from $12,000 to $45,000, there is an impact on the budget,” Morris said. “My suggestion to staff is to have a conversation to see what that looks like and negotiate something that is in the interest of both parties and bring that back to council to see if that fits into the current $830,000 deficit you’re currently facing.”

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