By BRADEN LAMMERS
A commission started at the behest of the Clark-Floyd Counties Convention and Tourism Bureau may end because it was included in a series of cuts outlined in the state’s proposed budget.
Tourism Bureau Executive Director Jim Keith reported to the Board of Managers at its regular meeting Wednesday that the Lewis and Clark Commission may cease to exist because of a provision in Indiana’s biannual budget. He said the commission was created through legislation in 2001, which planned to use the funding raised to highlight the Lewis and Clark expedition bicentennial events between 2003-06. As part of the legislation, the commission created a license plate for the state of Indiana that marked the Lewis and Clark bicentennial, and for each license plate sold the commission received a portion of the cost. The license plate sales are the only source of funding for the commission, which collects less than $20,000 annually, Keith said.
When the commission — made up of six state senators and six members of the House of Representatives — was created, the Indiana General Assembly outlined its goals as: Educate Indiana residents and the nation about Indiana’s important role in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, assist with the bicentennial events and projects and perform other duties necessary to highlight Indiana’s role in the expedition.
Though the bicentennial has passed, the tourism bureau said it wants the committee to continue.
“They want to shut down the Lewis and Clark Commission and they also want to take the funds that the foundation has,” said Tourism Bureau Board Member Carlene Bottorff. “It was set up by legislation ... to create a foundation where that amount of money from the license plates would continue to come in even after the bicentennial was over. That’s what we have been spending our monies on — the education piece — and trying to make this a destination for people to come to this area.
“Somebody’s got it in their mind that we aren’t doing anything, but we really are.”
Keith said the commission has been able to offer financial support for the Boy Scouts of America, place historic markers in the state and provide annual funding for the Lewis and Clark Teacher Institute.
“The Falls of the Ohio interpretive center, we gave $50,000 to for the Lewis and Clark exhibit,” he said.
The tourism bureau has continued to support the commission because it is drawing attention to the area as the starting point to the Lewis and Clark expedition, helping to draw tourists.
“Every dollar it gets goes toward promoting Lewis and Clark,” Keith said of the commission. “We don’t know where this piece of legislation got slipped into the budget.”
In addition to the $20,000 collected annually by the commission, Keith said there is a balance of about $40,000 in the fund. If the commission is dissolved, all of that funding would revert back to the state.
“I think it is very important to keep that,” said Tourism Bureau Member Mark Bliss of the commission. “It’s a huge part of our existence around here and I think it’s very, very important and vital to keep [it]. The main thing is it doesn’t cost anything.”
Keith urged the tourism board members to contact state legislators to ask that the commission remain intact.
Two new appointees were named to the tourism bureau’s board of managers by New Albany Mayor Jeff Gahan. The appointments are Paul Kiger and Susie Gahan, whose terms are set to expire in January 2015. Other reappointments whose terms will also expire at that time are: Rosalie Dowell, a Floyd County Commissioners appointment; James Becker, a Clark County Commissioners appointment; and Umang Bhatt and Mike Kapfhammer, Jeffersonville mayoral appointments.