Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
With events being cancelled due to the COVID19 pandemic and government safety protocols, the Franklin Tourism Development Authority (TDA) had additional funding left over in the 2020-2021 fiscal year that otherwise would have been disbursed in the form of grants to local events and organizations promoting tourism to the area. As more and more events and activities are beginning to be scheduled as the world opens back up, Connie Grubermann, chair of the the Franklin TDA asked the town of Franklin to allocate the balance remaining from last year’s to be spent in the new fiscal year that started on July 1.
“The funds are TDA funds and because they were not spent last year, they will be added to the TDA’s fund balance,” said Grubermann. “We are asking for the board’s approval to add it to this year’s general budget rather than the fund balance.”
The Franklin TDA is charged with disbursing room occupancy tax collections to businesses and organizations geared toward the promotion of travel and tourism in the Franklin area.
Last year, the TDA reported an anticipated budget for 2019-20 of $140,000 but the total revenue collected was $115,935.34. The TDA’s total expenses were at $118,665, which means $2,729 had to be used from the TDA’s $152,631 fund balance to balance the budget by June 30, 2020, when the fiscal year ended.
The TDA’s new budget kicked off on July 1, 2020 and with more of an idea of the impact of COVID19, the board adjusted the budget to reflect the anticipated continued decrease in revenues. However, even though room tax numbers were down the first few months of 2020, by summer, Franklin experienced an influx of visitors as people from around the country fled large cities for the more sparsely populated mountains. The unexpected influx of visitors to Franklin — despite fewer events and organizations requesting funding from the TDA resulted in additional funds at the end of the fiscal year.
According to TDA reports, April 2020 was the worst month on record for room occupancy tax collections in Franklin with just $707.20 collected, a significant hit compared to the $10,302 for the year prior for the same month. However, while April 2020 was the hardest hit month during the pandemic, April 2021 set a record for the TDA with a tax collection of $14,346.44 — the highest collection amount for any April on record. A similar trend was seen for the month of May. The Franklin TDA collected $4,265.21 in May 2020 — a more than $10,000 reduction from the prior year — however in May 2021, the TDA reported a collection of $16,649.89, the highest collection for May on record for the TDA.
By June 2020, the Franklin TDA collections has returned to near normal collection rates — while slightly less than previous years, but far different from the impact experienced in April and May.
During the July meeting of the Franklin Town Council, the TDA reported that with one month remaining before the fiscal year collection records were finalized — which sees more than $10,000 on average historically — the Franklin TDA has already collected $117,705.56 for the 2020-21 fiscal year — a $2,000 increase over the prior 12 months. The Franklin TDA will close out the 2020-21 fiscal year with a collection rate of close to pre-pandemic levels.
The Franklin Town Council voted to approve allocating the unspent TDA budget from 2020-21 for the 2021-22 fiscal year budget to allow the TDA to provide additional grants and funding opportunities to encourage tourism and development this year.