New fishing tourney is talk of Tourism Council
The beer company PBR sent representatives to a Tourism Council meeting Tuesday, March 6, to talk about a new fishing tournament the company is planning to sponsor on the island this year.
The 2012 Block Island Striped Bass Tournament will run from June 1 to July 7, said PBR’s Rob Reilly, and offer $25,000 in prize money, with separate categories for largest fish and on-shore fishermen. The tourney will cover state waters and the principal weigh-in station will be on Block Island. Entry will be $30. Organizers envision it as an annual event.
“We want this to be a community event,” said Reilly. “Hopefully for years to come this will be something you can take pride in.”
“In June, it’s especially attractive to have something like this,” said Tourism Council Chair John Cullen, commenting on what can be a slower time of the summer.
The tourney will be set on Block Island because record-breaking bass are often caught here, Reilly said. Last year, a fisherman caught the second-biggest bass on record just offshore.
With a 35-pound minimum and a one-fish-a-day limit, the tourney has been “set up to reduce mortality,” said another company rep. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is to send over personnel to take tissue and skin samples for striped bass monitoring.
No position on new rental tax
Governor Lincoln Chafee’s budget proposal, which includes a new tax on vacation home rentals and hike in the restaurant meal tax, came up for discussion, with council member Martha Ball wondering if the group should take a position on the vacation rental tax in advance of hearings at the State House the next day.
“It will affect Block Island probably more than anywhere else in the state,” said Tourism Director Jess Willi. “In my opinion, it will be detrimental to tourism here.”
“I agree that it will be detrimental,” said council member Brad Marthens, who owns the Atlantic Inn.
Willi said that the state Hospitality Association is not taking a position on the rental tax, as it represents hotels, which already pay the state’s 13-percent lodging tax and are mostly in favor of extending it to homes and small B&Bs. The Rhode Island Association of Realtors is vehemently opposing it. Willi said one question is how the tax, due to go into effect July 1, would be applied to rental bookings that have already been made.
Town Manager Nancy Dodge told the council that the Town Council had considered the issue the previous night. “There are too many questions unanswered for them to take a position,” she said, among them what would become of the town’s current 1-percent local tax on vacation rentals, which supports affordable housing. The governor’s office has told Dodge the local tax would no longer be applicable, she said, but that a 1.5 percent tax from the state to the town’s general fund would replace it. However, “I’ve seen nothing in writing,” she said.
The Tourism Council decided to wait until after the State House hearings to make a decision.
At the state hearings the next day (see story, page 1), the governor’s office released revised figures that said the tax would raise $3 million for the state, $1.1 million for cities and towns and $1 million for the regional tourism districts. Exactly how that money would be apportioned between the towns and districts remains unclear.
Hotel occupancy rebounded in 2011
December 2011 figures for the state’s lodging tax, which currently applies only to hotels and larger B&Bs and so is generally called the “hotel tax,” are in and show that last year’s fall and winter season held roughly level with 2010’s. Combined with a better summer season, it puts the council’s Fiscal Year 2011’s tax receipts up 6.7 percent from 2010’s, at $233,939, up from $217,340.
The tax provides the main source of income for the Tourism Council. It has generated between almost $300,000 in 2007 to 2010’s lowpoint of $217,000.
Trade shows galore
It’s trade show season, and Willi has been busy manning booths. She attended the New York Travel Writers’ Association and AAA shows last week, and will hit a fishing show at the Rhode Island Convention Center next week.
The new Block Island Magazine, the council’s principal “lure” brochure, which is produced by the parent company of the Block Island Times, was out in time for Willi to take to the AAA show, and she said it “went over great.”
The Tourism Council will tackle its budget in the upcoming weeks. An early look at it shows that, if most items are held steady from last year, the Tourism Council will face incomes and expenditures of $257,480. The bulk of income will come from the state lodging tax, and the council could pull as much as $22,880 from its reserve fund to meet what would otherwise be a shortfall.
Major expenses are for ads and promotions, at $121,250. Other expenses include payroll, at $64,100, and administration, at $36,150.
New island map
A company called Discovery Maps is in the last stages of preparing a map that will feature Block Island on one side and Narragansett on the other.
The company will print 200,000 copies of the maps, a road map that will also show business that advertise with the company, a representative told the Tourism Council. The maps will be out by the end of May, said Amy Newman.
Council members gathered to inspect the map, and pointed out a few places where it wasn’t accurate; Newman said she was planning on driving around the island that afternoon to find any errors.
Tourism Council seeks new member
The Tourism Council has a vacancy. Member Ted Merritt has resigned for personal reasons; the Town Council is accepting applications from potential candidates, and is aiming to appoint his replacement March 21.