County sees growth in rental industry

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Council hears update on solar project


Staff Writer



ROCKPORT – Melissa Arnold, director of the Spencer County Visitors Bureau presented a favorable report to the Spencer County Council regarding the financial health of the bureau, its operations and the overall outlook for tourism in the county. She expects revenue slated for tourism promotion to increase next year, allowing for a number of potential new projects, including a new visitors center.

The total budgeted expenses for 2018 came in at $435,700. Arnold advised that the projected budget for next year constitutes a marked increase, totaling $502,510.

Revenue for bureau operations is derived from a 5 percent innkeeper’s tax on rented accommodations, with the notable exception of recreational vehicles. Essentially, growth in revenue signifies a spike in occupancy in rental properties.

Arnold clarified that 2018 marked the first full year since the opening of Lincoln Pines Lakefront Resort on the west side of U.S. 231, which has helped spur more overnight tourists to the county, and as a result, more revenue from the tax. Arnold expressed hope that 2019 would continue this trend of growth.

“We had a really good year,” she said.

The bulk of the bureau’s expenses lie in marketing, and the bulk of next year’s budget increase will fall into this category. A total of $271,925 will be spent on this front, up from $214,485 in 2018. These efforts include the printing of brochures, ad placement in travel guides throughout the state and wider region and other advertising. Other promotions such as video and photography will also see more resources, rising from $4,450 to $6,600.

Digital marketing, media trips and brand awareness campaigns will see $115,800 allocated in 2019, up from $86,500. The county tourism’s website and online information resources will also receive more support, to the tune of $67,910 over last year’s $41,330.

Arnold emphasized that 2018 is not over for the bureau yet, and is in fact entering its most arduous phase. The Christmas season often brings national media attention to goings on in the town of Santa Claus, and Arnold said a wide slate of appearances are scheduled where county attractions can be shared with the potential tourists.

In other business, Council attorney John Wetherill reported that as the solar-energy project near Troy is now under the ownership of Vectren, the tax abatements the council agreed to with the original company, Troy Solar, are now void. However, Vectren could approach the council seeking the same abatements if they so choose.

The solar project is still in its preliminary stages, but its first phase is scheduled to begin generating power by 2020. The array would include 150,000 solar panels, which would generate enough power for 12,000 homes. Construction of the solar farm will begin after approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. A decision from the commission is expected to be made in the first half of 2019.

The council also approved an expenditure of $4,000 to help secure the county’s 911 emergency services against potential ransomware attacks, such as the one that recently beset the city of Rockport. These precautions feature a flexible approach that is likely to shift as new forms of cybercrime continue to evolve.

Jeff Lindsey of the Spencer County Election Board reported that the new early voting location in Santa Claus saw a great deal of traffic over the election season, and the board plans to make this location a permanent fixture going forward. More hours could be scheduled for that location in future elections as well.