Tourist Council wants to add 3 positions, spend $450,000 on marketing area

Jack Wert

Jack Wert

The freeze — as in hiring — in Collier County government could come to an end.

The Tourist Development Council's Advisory Board gave initial approval Monday to hire three new employees for the TDC and spend more than $400,000 on new marketing and employees.

The commissioners will now have to decide if the TDC can use up to $100,000 to launch a television, digital and social media advertising and promotion campaign in Florida and northern feeder markets; up to $100,000 in additional group market assistance; and up to $250,000 to hire three additional tourism staff members for sales and digital media positions.

The money to make these changes, which Tourism Director Jack Wert said is estimated at about $450,000, is revenue from the tourist tax.

But TDC Adisory Board Chairman Murray Hendel voted against the hires. He said he thought the TDC should go through the county manager's office and ask for the positions in the next budget cycle. He questioned what would happen if the TDC hired new employees and then did not see the additional money in fiscal 2013.

Wert said the plan, which had the approval of the county's lodging association, would affect revenue by having more people working to bring business to Collier County.

"It will drive business," he said. "We didn't want to earmark this money until we knew what the carry forward amount was."

Wert added there was precedent for the discussion. He said the TDC had $350,000 at the end of fiscal 2011, which was used for advertising.

"We have been under a hiring freeze for four years. Our workload has dramatically increased," he said.

County Commissioner and TDC board member Tom Henning voted against the hires and spending. He said he needed more details and asked for a delay in the recommendation. Wert, who is hoping to take the recommendation to the commissioners in November, said he hoped to have more information by that meeting.

In other business, the board unanimously rejected a proposal to spend $34,900 for a peer review of the Wiggins Pass channel improvement project and $15,905 for a peer review of the county's beach renourishment design methodology.

A peer review means another engineering firm looks at the project to determine if everything was done correctly.

Naples Mayor John Sorey, a member of the TDC advisory board, called the expenditures "unnecessary."

"In reality, there are some commissioners and citizens who disagree with this (project). This is an effort to give another level of review and quiet critics," he said.

Coastal Projects Manager Gary McAlpin said it is not uncommon for the county to ask for a peer review on major projects or technologically complex projects.

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