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Visitors bureau won't get tax funds County executive cites tight budget, but offers $40,000 challenge grant


Efforts to promote Baltimore County received a setback yesterday, as the county executive refused to earmark part of hotel tax revenue for the Baltimore County Conference and Visitors Bureau.

Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, however, did offer a challenge grant of up to $40,000, committing the county to allocate $2 for every $1 the bureau raises by March.

"I know it's not good news to you," Mr. Ruppersberger, citing county budget restraints, told bureau members at a monthly meeting. "You have to justify your existence."

Diane Molner, executive director of the nonprofit bureau, says that's exactly what the group does in planning conventions and in marketing events and tourist attractions.

"We are working on behalf of the county," she said. "This isn't a fluff industry, and we're all not out there having fun. We're selling the county."

Many bureau members -- who noted that the county has the highest hotel tax rate in Maryland -- also were disappointed that the organization's budget would not be increased. Last year, county hotels generated $4.1 million from an 8 percent occupancy tax and a 5 percent sales tax, but the bureau does not get a share -- though other localities have such revenue-sharing agreements.

"We're discouraged," said Gwen Vaughan, who has operated the Twin Gates Bed and Breakfast Inn in Lutherville with her husband, Bob, for the past 10 years. "We were hoping for more support for the [bureau] . . . You can't promote economic development unless you advertise."

"I don't see how we can compete," said Barbara Schofield of the Holiday Inn Timonium.

But she added that the meeting with Mr. Ruppersberger was encouraging because county officials were talking with bureau members. "We've been given a challenge. We'll meet it."

The bureau, which was cut from the Department of Economic Development by former county executive Roger Hayden four years ago, gained new life in November when it became a private organization.

"We've gone a long time without help. We started at ground zero," Ms. Molner said.

Mr. Ruppersberger told the group he was showing support for tourism by backing proposals to build a multimillion-dollar exhibition hall for regional shows at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

"Timonium is one of our key projects," he said, stressing it would help the visitors bureau. "With your people and your energy, we can take off."

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