City considers $41,000 billboard plan
Plan could be funded by increase in millage or rise in motel/ hotel tax
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) projects coordinator Andy Williams was on hand at Monday’s regular city council meeting to formally request additional advertising funds for a billboard program for next year.
“Billboards are the final thing that consumers see when they’re thinking about buying product,” said Williams.
According to data collated by the CVB, effective billboard use could increase hotel occupancy rates by as much as 15 percent. Williams said that data shows that 85 percent of consumers believe billboards are useful; 83 percent believe that billboards are informative.
“In short, the reports say that billboards are effective,” said Williams.
They also require a significant investment. The CVB, in conjunction with the city’s Main Street program, is asking city officials for a $41,000 increase in a $35,000 joint-advertising line item that the two entities share. The $41,000 would fund two billboards on I-20—one east of Madison and one west of Madison—for one year.
Although unsure as yet as to where the money for such a program might come from, Mayor Tom DuPree was supportive of the idea of billboards advertising Madison along I-20.
“I’d like to see more billboards, probably three in each direction,” said DuPree.
Council member Michael Naples was concerned with bottom line.
“That’s more than doubling the current budget [for cooperative advertising],” said Naples. “That’s a significant increase.”
Council members took no immediate action on the proposal, instead opting to study finance options for the program. The additional monies could come from an increase in the millage rate of one or both of the city’s Special Tax Districts, or an increase in the hotel/motel tax rate.
“We have two special tax districts, one in the I-20 corridor and one downtown,” said City Manager David Nunn. “They would probably both benefit from this [billboard initiative], so maybe it should be a shared [tax] increase, if we go that direction,” said Nunn.
Council members also further reviewed the possible creation of a new city zoning classification, the C-5, or heavy commercial zone.
No action was taken during the discussion of a possible new zone, as staff members were simply looking for a “policy directive,” according to Planning Director Monica Callahan.
“We’re all interested in pursuing this,” said DuPree. “I think we see some areas [on the zoning map] it’s time to address.”
“This is major, for me,” said Naples. “We’re going to need some time to review…and determine what we really need.”
Finally, council members were approached by residents of the Madison Lakes subdivision with a request that the city sell water to the development at the city’s municipal rate of three dollars (soon to be $3.50) per 1,000 gallons of water, as opposed to the current retail rate of $5.56 per thousand.
Madison sells water to Madison Lakes, which has a private water system operated by the developer. The city reads a single meter for the development each month; the residents pay the retail rate on that meter plus a 20 percent surcharge for the maintenance of their water system. One hundred percent of the development’s water is provided by the city.
“We’re just looking to pay about the same as other Madison customers do,” said Madison Lakes resident David Roark.
Although the residents of Madison Lakes pay a retail rate, the city does not have to individually read each of the 120 meters in the development each month, nor does it bear the costs of maintaining the private system.
“There must be some cost savings for the city there,” said Roark.
The water agreement was established by the City of Madison and the developer in 2000, and council members will have to carefully review the situation before making any decisions.
“When we agree to provide water, we are bound forever,” said DuPree. “We have to look at the build-out of this development, whether that’s in five years or 50 years. Eventually, we will have to fill that pipe with enough water for the homes there at build-out,” a total that could exceed 1,000 homes, said DuPree.
“As rates go up…we’re getting requests for rate cuts from other entities,” said Nunn. “Some of those are government entities…so we’re not looking at this in a vacuum,” he said, while praising the steady water and gas customers in Madison Lakes.