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Franklin  In an effort to retain hotel room tax dollars generated within the city, the common council has established a new tourism commission.

The city is now looking for people to fill the seats of the five-member commission, which will focus on tourism promotion and development locally. The new panel, formally created on Tuesday, Dec. 6, plans to start meeting in January once the seats are filled.

According to economic development director Aaron Hertzberg, who will provide staff support for the commission, the commission will both try to draw new visitors to the area and work with the city's existing tourism population.

Tied together

"Part of it is about building on the existing base that (provides traffic to) our hotels and motels," Hertzberg said. "In some of the conversations I've had with hotel and motel owners in the city, they've said they do see a lot of traffic from our business park, (such as) various clients and contractors that are staying at our local hotels."

Part of the commission's focus will be to help those visitors enjoy their experience in the city by informing them of entertainment options in town or about local restaurants they can visit.

The commission will also focus on driving traffic to Franklin for some of the existing events that already draw people to the city, such as St. Martins Fair or activities at the Milwaukee County Sports Complex.

"We'll work with the commission to think how to promote those activities and promote hotel traffic that relates to those events," Hertzberg said.

Law change

The main drive to create a formal tourism commission came from changes in state law that more closely defined the way room tax revenue from hotels and motels had to be used.

The law originally changed in 1994 to state that no more than 30 percent of revenue from room tax could be used for general municipal expenditures while the rest had to go to a tourism commission or other tourism entity, Hertzberg said.

However, under a grandfather clause, Franklin was able to still put 100 percent of the room tax revenue toward municipal expenditures, because the city had previously established a room tax.

In 2015, the law changed again to remove the grandfather clause, requiring Franklin to create some sort of tourism entity if it hoped to retain those dollars.

By creating the tourism commission, Franklin will still be able to collect room taxes in 2017, though now a certain amount will have to be allocated to fund the tourism commission.

Funding tourism

For the next several years the amount of tax revenue the city is able to maintain will be determined by comparisons to total revenue collected in the past five years, which will allow the city to maintain a greater percentage of the revenue for general funds.

After four years, the city will be able to maintain over 30 percent of the funds until that percentage exceeds the amount the city collected in room tax in 2010, or approximately $151,000.

Hertzberg estimated that the city will not reach that point soon unless Franklin's hotel market changes.

"We don't anticipate that occurring through natural inflation for the next 20 years, but if there are new hotels built in the city, that (timeline) could be shortened," Hertzberg. "With Ballpark Commons, that could certainly change."

The 70 percent of revenue, or excess funds collected, will go toward funding the commission through a new tourism fund.

The tourism fund will support some activities previously supported in the category of general municipal funds, so events like St. Martins Fair can be funded through the tourism fund instead of general expenses.

Seeking volunteers

The city is currently looking for a Franklin resident to fill a seat on the commission. According to Hertzberg, the ideal candidate would have some expertise or interest in the fields of tourism, hospitality, marketing and advertising.

Interested candidates should complete the volunteer fact sheet on the city website's the boards and commissions page.

There are several other vacancies on other city boards, as well, including the personnel committee, environmental commission, and the civic celebration commission. The city is encouraging residents with expertise or interest in those fields to complete the online volunteer fact sheet.

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