From an Ole Seagull’s perspective, the answers to most of the following questions should be of interest to many of the citizens and businesses of Branson and Taney County for what he believes are obvious reasons. But then, what does an Ole Seagull know?
1. Has the Branson Landing TIF raised enough revenue so that, on an annual basis, year to year, it can pay off its debt service for each of the years it has been open?
2. Is there a TIF funded reserve fund set aside for such payments?
3. If the answer to 2 is “Yes” 3-5 become pertinent if not skip down to 6. How is it funded?
4. What is the current balance of that fund and is there any danger of it running out in the near future?
5. If that fund has ever been used in full or in part to pay on the Branson Landing TIF debt because the TIF receipts were not sufficient, how much and when?
6. If the TIF receipts and the TIF reserve account, if in existence, aren’t enough to pay the debt service is there any possibility that the residents and businesses of Branson could have to pay it either directly or through a loss of services?
7. If the answer to 6 is “Yes” what specific revenue streams of the city are impacted first and how does it eventually flow through to the individual citizen or business?
8. Where is the specific consideration in the potentially $60 million dollar contract the city has with the Branson Airport?
9. Could the recent action of the Branson Board of Aldermen involving payments under Branson Airport Contract influence future legal actions or negotiations involving that contract.
10. Should the word “honor” be used in connection with anything involving the Branson Airport Contract from its inception to the boards recent action involving it?
11. Does the legislation authorizing the city of Branson to impose its city tourism tax permit the use of 75 percent of the tax authorized for infrastructure for the operation of such infrastructure as well as its construction?
12. How many water meters are there in the city of Branson?
13. What is the annual total of the funds, beside debt service, being paid to Branson Landing for maintenance, net operating loss at the Convention Center and the Branson Airport Contract etc.?
14. In addition to the increase in water bills that has been taking place over the last three year for Branson citizens and businesses it may still have to go higher because of what?
15. The average job created by the Branson Landing and Branson Hills TIFF actually pays how much per year?
16. The Federal Poverty Level for a family of two adults and two children is?
17. Is there actually a behind the scenes movement that encourages Branson tourism related businesses not to register with the state and pay the appropriate taxes on the sale of show and attraction tickets that the Missouri Supreme Court says the law requires them to pay?
18. Exactly what is the city of Branson’s position on that issue and what is it doing to insure that every penny it is owed in sales and tourism tax is collected and used for the benefit of the citizens and businesses of Branson?
19. Will the recent layoff of Taney County Road and Bridge personnel impact on the condition and safety of Taney County roads and bridges?
20 What other options or plans were seriously considered before they were laid off?
21. Is there a priority list of county services that would indicate those services that are more essential than others?
22. If not why not?
23. How much did Taney County spend fighting the Tax Assessor issue with the state?
24. Where did the millions of dollars that Taney County had committed to the building of the Taneycomo Bridge go when they didn’t have to spend it because Federal Stimulus money was used for the project instead?
25. Has there been any discussion of collecting a real estate property tax from the residents of Taney County for the purposes of running county government?
Whoops, missed one.
26. Does anyone besides an Ole Seagull really care?
At the outset, let’s make one thing perfectly clear, the issue is not about the Branson Airport whether its good or bad, should have been built or not etc. It’s about a contract that has the potential to cost the taxpayers of the city of Branson up to $2 million dollars per year for 30 years. A contract that is so one-sided and unconscionable on its face that most objective people looking at it would say, “Wow, what a gift for the airport. The city pays up to $60 million to the airport to spend without restrictions of any kind simply for running their business?” Others might ask, “How can I get the same type of deal?”
In an Ole Seagull’s opinion, up until the Jan. 12 Branson Board of Aldermen meeting, the stench of the Branson Airport Contract, “negotiated” under the regime of former City Administrator Terry Dody and what the Ole Seagull refers to as his “merry band of men,” had not tainted the new administration and board that has developed since the 2007 elections. To an Ole Seagull that contract is the perfect illustration of the arrogance and attitude of a city leadership that, whether it was claiming the right to the name “Branson,” authorizing 25 story buildings, or using its power and authority to impede the rights of citizens to speak freely at public meetings, did what they wanted to and when they wanted to with impunity up until the 2007 elections.
There are relatively few times in a person’s life time when they have a second opportunity to right an obvious wrong. The current Mayor, staff, and Board of Aldermen were presented with just such an opportunity. While obviously only a judge can determine the legality of a contract and how it is being performed, the city recently paid tens of thousands of dollars to get two different legal opinions on the contract. In general they both agreed that the current contract was not legal or enforceable as written.
The current board and administration had an opportunity to correct a wrong. One way would have been by simply telling the Branson Airport, “We don’t believe the agreement is legal or enforceable and do not intend to pay one red cent under its provisions.” Another could have been by saying “We don’t believe the agreement is legal or enforceable, but we would be willing to work with you to see if we can negotiate an agreement that would be fair to both parties, limit the payment of any city funds to the first time a passenger flies into Branson excluding subsequent trips and addressing other concerns the city or community might have.”
Instead, after about a year of closed door discussions on the matter and being informed of the legal opinions as to the illegality of the contract what does the board and mayor do? It passes a resolution reading, “The Board of Aldermen hereby authorizes payment in the amount of $77,101.68 for the first quarter billing as identified and recommended by the City’s Auditor, subject to the modification of the Pay for Performance agreement allowing payments to the Branson Airport Transportation Development District.”
By that simple action, in the opinion of an Ole Seagull, the board and mayor chose to taint themselves with the stench from the Branson Airport Contract. Instead of doing the honorable thing and calling the Branson Airport Agreement the one-sided unconscionable and illegal agreement it is, the city appears to be trying to launder the payments through another entity, not a party to the contract, in an attempt to make something they have been advised is illegal legal and, in doing so, appears to give the appearance of ratifying the contract.
To their credit Alderman Rick Davis, Sandra Williams, and Chris Bohinc voted against the resolution while Aldermen Bob Simmons, Mike Booth, and Rick Todd voted for it and surprisingly, Mayor Raeanne Presley broke the tie by voting for it. It has been said this is just the beginning of the process and public discussion on the issue.
To an Ole Seagull, the resolution itself and the fact that the issue has been discussed for over a year without public participation speaks volumes about how close to the beginning of the process things and the value that was put on public input. Who was it that said, “The more things change the more they stay the same?”
When Branson residents flush their toilet they pay for it, but the opportunities for Branson residents to flush things away and pay doesn’t stop there. Without even getting to pull the handle on the stool, Branson residents get to pay $8.24 for every person getting off a plane at the Branson Airport who did not originally depart from that airport on their trip.
It’s actually kind of like flushing your toilet, the more you flush the more you pay. Well, the more passengers that fly into the airport the more the Branson residents pay. As a matter of fact, over the next 30 years, at $8.24 cents per passenger, $500,000 per quarter, and $2,000,000 per year that could cost the residents of Branson $60 million dollars flushed away.
The requirement for the residents of Branson to pay the per passenger fee arises from a contract, created and entered into under the leadership of a past city administrator and the merry band of aldermen who, in the opinion of an Ole Seagull, did what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it. For example, they wanted to give the airport up to $2 million a year merely for doing what they said they would do in the first place with no public money and for just doing what airports are supposed to do, fly people in and out. So they did.
The first time the Ole Seagull saw the contract he was amazed at how one sided it was even considering the city leadership that authorized it. Basically, the residents of the city of Branson are obligated, in accordance with the contract, to pay the airport up to $2 million per year for the next 30 years without the airport doing anything other than run an airport. To an Ole Seagull the contract, more a gift from the city of Branson to the airport developers, is the most “unconscionable” contract he has ever seen.
In a general legal sense, a contract could be considered “unconscionable” if, among other things, it is so one-sided as to be considered oppressively unfair. In this contract one even wonders if the airport is obligated to do anything it was not already doing except collect the money from the city. It’s so ludicrous and one sided that if Visitor A and his Wife flew into the Branson Airport, even though they had been flying into Branson through the Springfield Branson Regional airport twice a year for the last five years, the residents of the city of Branson would have to pay $16.48 for the first and each subsequent time they fly into the Branson airport. That’s right folks each time, twice a year $32.96, twice a year for the next ten years $329.60.
The city has spent over $67,000 for legal reviews of the contract and, if published reports on those reviews are accurate there are legal problems and issues with the contract. Indeed, the city’s staff has recommended that no payments be made under the original contract until it is amended.
One of the newly appointed aldermen is quoted as saying, “We have an obligation like it or not. I have to stand up and honor the decision. The intent is to support the airport if funds are available…Don’t want to put out the message we don’t support their airport.” May an Ole Seagull ask, “What is there to honor and at what expense to the residents of the city of Branson?” It was an unconscionable agreement from its inception, city lawyers have indicated its illegal and not paying the money indicates no more than the city is not going to allow its tax payers money be flushed down the drain in an illegal or unconscionable manner whether it’s paid to the airport or any another entity.
In an Ole Seagull’s opinion the word “honor” is dishonored when used in connection with the airport agreement. He believes there was no honor in its inception; can be no honor in any attempt to flush money from the residents of the city of Branson to the airport whether flushed directly or through some other legal entity in a pitiful attempt to circumvent state law and there is no honor if a legal and conscionable means is available to renegotiate a fairer more audit friendly contract and is not pursued to the maximum extent possible. As a starter, how about just paying the airport for the first time a passenger comes in and not every subsequent time?
Last week’s column entitled “Does Branson need more big named stars or better promotion of what it has?” has generated some interest and comment. Its objective was to point out that Branson’s stages have an under recognized and underappreciated talent that, if recognized and marketed by the powers that control Branson’s marketing, could do for Branson well into its next 50 years what Shoji Tabuchi has done over the last 20 plus years.
It wasn’t intended to be about what we shouldn’t be doing or even an all inclusive piece about what we should be doing. It was a straight forward piece expressing one old man’s opinion about one thing we could be doing.
The comments on the “Ole Seagull Forum” under the “Living in Branson Forums” on www.1Branson.com were very interesting. They provide a varied perspective of peoples perception on the issue.
BransonBluesman said, “I’ve been here 22 years, and IMHO…Branson needs a few more “stars” to draw people here. Neal McCoy seems to have found a niche in Branson and will be appearing here on at least a semi-regular basis.” As to Neal McCoy and the other national stars that come to Branson, an Ole Seagull would say “Amen,” it adds to the breadth of the types of live shows Branson provides, has been taking place for at least the last two decades and doesn’t change the main point of the column.
Suselit said, “Branson has some young, ambitious Entertainers with their own Theaters who are working hard to get Audiences to come to Branson. The Duttons and The Haygoods are using TV to promote not only their shows but Branson as a tourist destination. It would seem logical for Branson to get behind their efforts and work as a team to accomplish the goal of Publicity for Branson.”
DalmationDad said, “Beyond about 600 miles or so, the marketing message is not effective IMO [In My Opinion]. People generally have heard of Branson, but misunderstand it terribly in the negative sense.” In referring to Suselit’s post, BransonBluesman said, “I think you are missing the point a bit. People who have never been to Branson have more than likely never heard of the The Duttons and The Haygoods.”
That was the major point of the column. Why haven’t people who have never been to Branson heard of these shows and Branson’s other under recognized and underappreciated shows who are performing day in and day out all during the season, not just for limited engagements or during the “plum part” of the season? Why are they not used as a marketing tool to help people make the decision to come to Branson because they are here?
BransonBluesman goes on to say, “Honestly – (and I’m not saying this is my opinion) most of the “family” acts in Branson are considered second rate when it comes to other entertainment areas like Vegas, etc.” All an Ole Seagull can say to that is “Honestly, Branson is a different type of entertainment “area,” than Las Vegas. “Areas like Vegas, etc.” don’t entertain, “entertainers” entertain and there is absolutely nothing “second rate” about the caliber of entertainment that family shows such as, but not limited to the Haygoods, Duttons, Six, the Hughes Brothers, Presleys’, Balknobbers and others provide Branson visitors. Weren’t the Dutton’s one of the top ten finalists on the nationally televised NBC hit show “America’s Got Talent” based on the votes of millions of Americans?
National stars, those on limited engagements, extended stays as well as those who chose to stay in Branson and become foundational shows are an important part of what Branson is today and will be in the future. What came first however, the national stars or the millions of visitors already coming to Branson to, among other things, be entertained by Branson’s foundational family acts such as the Baldknobbers, Braschlers, Plummers and Presleys?
At the end of the day marketing is like the difference between a violin and a fiddle. It’s all about how you play around with it that determines the result. From a marketing standpoint, why haven’t people who have never been to Branson heard about “The Duttons and The Haygoods” or Branson’s other under recognized and underappreciated shows?
Most were probably expecting a column about the headline story of 2009 or something along those lines. Actually, although the story was never written, the question should have been a headline in 2009, 2008, 2007, prior years and should be a major story during 2010, but it wasn’t and it won’t. That’s sad because the answer to Branson’s future could lie in the balance.
Shoji Tabuchi is one of the most popular acts in Branson and justly so for a lot of reasons. Yet, prior to 1991 Shoji had been working in Branson, and around the country during the off season, and had just recently started his own show. After his appearance on the 1991 CBS Show “60 Minutes,” where Branson was declared as the “Live Music Capital of the Entire Universe,” and the attendant publicity and marketing accompanying that show and Shoji, he rose like a meteor to a justly deserved place as one of Branson’s must see shows.
Now the Ole Seagull realizes that there was a lot more involved than the 60 Minutes Show. There was a new theatre, productions numbers like Branson stages had never seen before, good internal marketing, a huge influx of new people coming to Branson, and of course the talent, wit and audience appeal of one of the Ole Seagull’s favorite entertainers and people, the incomparable Shoji Tabuchi.
However, the reality of the situation at that time was that in 1991 “Shoji Tabuchi” was not a big named national star. His was not the name on the lips of those who were saying, “What Branson needs to do is get more big named stars.” Yet, over the last 20 years, unless the Ole Seagull misses his bet, Shoji Tabuchi has been responsible for consistently, year after year, month after month, entertaining more Branson visitors than any other star or act that has ever come to Branson.
What the Ole Seagull is trying to say is that in 1991, even as some were saying, “Woe is Branson if we don’t bring in big named national stars” one of its biggest stars of the next two decades was already performing on a Branson stage right under their noses. The publicity of 60 minutes helped them realize what was available, it was capitalized on and the rest is history.
It seems like someone is always saying, “Branson entertainment needs new this or that and woe is Branson if we don’t bring in big named national stars.” To that an Ole Seagull would say, “Bull roar.”
In terms of Branson’s marketing effort, and strictly in the Ole Seagull’s opinion, Branson’s stages have an under recognized and under appreciated talent that, if recognized and marketed by the powers that control the marketing, could do for Branson well into its next 50 years what Shoji Tabuchi has done over the last 20. The first question a lot of people would ask is, “What shows would those be?” Although he is certain there are others, of the shows he considers “under appreciated and under recognized,” that he has had personal involvement with during the last year the Duttons, Haygoods, Magnificent Variety, Six, Hughes Brothers, George Dyre, Clay Cooper, Liver Pool Legends and the “Country Tonite cast” portion of the “Country Tonite” show come to mind.
The Ole Seagull will wonder until the day he dies, why the marketing gurus of this town didn’t jump on the chance to market Branson and the Dutton Show to take maximum advantage of its prime time appearances and top ten performances on the top rated NBC hit show “America’s Got Talent.” There was the ideal chance for Branson to help create its own new star. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen and we are still complaining that we have nothing coming up to replace our maturing acts that will, more than likely sooner than later, be retiring.
For what it matters, an Ole Seagull believes we have the talent, shows and entertainers performing on Branson stages right now that can provide quality, diversity, stability and longevity for Branson’s entertainment scene for a long time to come. All we have to do is recognize it and promote it.
Isn’t that what marketing is for? Very few people come to Branson for no reason. Why not make that reason something that will be providing quality Branson based season long family entertainment in Branson for the next ten to twenty years?