When it comes to tourism, Harford County in general and Havre de Grace in particular have missed the boat.
Fortunately, Havre de Grace didn't continue on that course last week when it approved a $12 million budget for 2013. As it approved the budget, the city council included an amendment specifically saying a full-time tourism promotions job wouldn't be added to the city's payroll.
Such frugality has its benefits. The spending plan the city approved for the fiscal year beginning July 1 represents an actual reduction in spending of $700,000 and a penny reduction in the real estate tax rate. While a single full-time salary and benefits package didn't save the city the full $700,000, the approach of not spending money on things that aren't needed helps keep spending in check.
And another full-time person drawing a city government salary isn't needed. Similarly, the county has little if any need to be paying for such positions.
Harford County and Havre de Grace have plenty to offer visitors. The lower Susquehanna River and upper Chesapeake Bay offer world class outdoor sporting opportunities. Aberdeen has its Ripken connection and a related stadium complex to promote. Day trip opportunities abound thanks to Rocks and Gunpowder state parks farther west.
Harford County's wineries and horse farms also make for some sightseeing opportunities.
Certainly these things have the potential to bring in people from a few miles to a few hundred miles away, and there is a need to make people from such areas aware of the good times that await them in Harford County and Havre de Grace.
This, however, is the responsibility of the business community that's most apt to benefit from increased tourism. In short, this is the job of private business organizations like chambers of commerce, merchants associations or even specialized, non-governmental organizations of tourist-oriented businesses.
No one expects the government to hire someone whose job it is to promote grocery stores, malls, shopping centers and restaurants, so why should the government be in the business of promoting a particular kind of business, namely tourism.
Moreover, the efforts at tourism promotion in both Havre de Grace and Harford County in general have, year after year, failed to do anything to enhance a key element of the tourism economy that has been thriving for years: pleasure boating.
Havre de Grace is home to one of the largest collections of relatively deep-water slips on the upper Chesapeake Bay and at this time of year, boaters flock to the city, often before most businesses are open, to jump onto their boats. By the time the boaters return to shore, many businesses are closed. In recent years, the business community – especially those in the restaurant trade – have begun to capitalize on this ebbing and flowing tide of people with the financial wherewithal to buy a boat and keep it in good repair, but this bloc of tourists is not fully tapped. Such was the case before Havre de Grace and Harford County went into the tourism promotions business, and it remains the case.
Though the debate over whether to expand Havre de Grace's tourism promotion operation is likely to continue into the next budget cycle, as there is a strong dissenting sentiment for it on the city council, such expenditures have been shown only to create however many tourism jobs the city cares to fund.
Beyond that, it's hard to measure, and even harder to justify.