While entertaining requests for the city's promotion money Monday afternoon, the Aberdeen City Council got involved in a brief debate:
Does the city have enough on its plate that simply maintaining one of the city's treasures is enough? Or should the city help subsidize continued improvements at the popular attraction?
The subject of discussion was Storybook Land. The man who brought up the philosophical question was councilman Clint Rux, who admitted he was playing devil's advocate.
The Sertoma Club, which oversees the expansion of Storybook Land, was one of nine groups that appeared at a City Council work session designed to handle oral presentations from groups requesting 2014 promotion fund dollars. The Sertoma request was presented by Bob Gruman. He was assisted by Aberdeen Parks Superintendent Mark Hoven.
For 2014, the Sertoma Club is requesting $40,000. This year, the club is receiving $16,000.
The first structures at Storybook Land were built in 1976, and some of them are starting to deteriorate, Gruman said. One attraction he mentioned is the Pumpkin. Gruman also said sidewalks throughout the park need to be widened from five feet to 10 feet to handle foot traffic and people in wheelchairs.
Local groups are good about fundraising for specific projects, but it's hard to find support for infrastructure, Gruman said.
Rux asked if the goal, from the city's perspective, should be to grow or maintain Storybook Land.
Gruman said it's the Sertoma Club's desire to grow it. The more features the park has, the bigger drawing card it will be, he said. If plans for expansion had stopped, he said, Storybook Land wouldn't have the Visitors Center, for example, he said.
Hoven pointed out that the goal with many planned Storybook Land improvements is to lessen the amount of maintenance required. Rux said he was glad to hear it.
Councilman David Bunsness said the point Gruman was making is that if Storybook Land doesn't continue to progress, then “Aberdeen will slide.”
Councilman Todd Campbell said the Sertoma Club is one of the few groups requesting promotion money that uses all of its money for the promotion of Aberdeen, rather than salaries or overhead.
Council member Laure Swanson talked about the importance of Storybook Land to Aberdeen. Unlike Rapid City, “We don't have a Mount Rushmore to fall back on,” she said.
Mayor Mike Levsen asked about the Sertoma Club's members. “Well, we've worn out a few of of them,” Gruman said of the group's long-time members. But, he said, Sertoma membership is going back up.
Council member Jennifer Slaight-Hansen said in her first year on the council, she voted to give the Sertoma Club no money. But she has come full circle, she said. “There's nothing that defines promotion more than what you're doing,” she said.
Thirty-two groups are requesting a total of $1,369,155 in promotion money for 2014. The council will have to shave those requests considerably. The city has $970,000 in promotion money available for 2014.
To generate the promotion money, the city of Aberdeen self-imposes a municipal sales tax upon the gross receipts of all leases or rentals of hotel, motel, campsites or other lodging accommodations, alcoholic beverages, eating establishments and admission for entertainment for the promotion and advertising of a municipality.
All cities that impose the optional sales tax determine what qualifies as promoting their municipality.
Groups receiving promotional money must be qualified under Internal Revenue Service Chapter 501 C as a charitable, religious or other nonprofit organization or a governmental subdivision or agency.
The first group heard from Monday was the Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is requesting $424,000 — $3,500 more than it's receiving this year. Brenda Moore of the CVB noted that 76 percent of visitor spending is generated out of state. She also said that 40 percent of visitor spending isn't taxed by the “triple B” tax. The primary objects of that tax are hotel rooms, liquor by the drink and prepared food, which is why it's called the bed, booze and board tax.