Convention Commission budget set at $8 million

By HASKEL BURNS,

Fiscal Year 2020 looks to be a good one for the Hattiesburg Convention Commission, with a budget of approximately $8 million – an increase of $105,119 from last year.

With that comes an expected $400,809 increase in estimated total income: $261,284 from the 2 percent food and beverage tax; $105,000 in revenue from the Saenger Theater, Lake Terrace Convention Center, African American Military History Museum and the Hattiesburg Zoo; $24,200 from food and beverage revenue; and $10,325 in interest. The upcoming budget, which will take effect Oct. 1, was approved last Tuesday by Hattiesburg City Council after being presented by Rick Taylor, executive director of the commission.

“On the income side, we’re projecting fairly conservatively, based on this year’s income,” Taylor said. “There’s about 4 percent growth in the special sales tax that supports the commission, and we are projecting about a 5.5 percent increase in sales generated funds that typically come from (our facilities).

“So that puts us fairly close to last year, but with some slight improvements.”

On the expenditures side, facilities operations – including natural gas, electricity, animal feed, and safety equipment – are estimated at approximately $2.09 million, an increase of $4,650 over last year. Refurbishment of facilities and replacement of equipment and fixtures will run $411,756, or $67,000 less than last year.

Insurance cost is estimated at $924,450, while $4.58 million is allocated for staffing costs.

“On repairs, refurbishment, and fixed assets, the great thing here is that we’re projecting a 14 percent reduction in expenses there,” Taylor said. “We must really credit our staff – they really do a good job of maintaining the facilities, and they’re very conscientious.

“(Also), we were able to hire a zoo educator, three additional guest services personnel, a museum docent, and for the first time ever, we have brought aboard a full-time security and safety manager.”

Taylor also is still working to get the Hattiesburg Zoo accredited through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which would make it the only zoo in the state with that designation. As part of that process, inspectors from the AZA have visited the zoo and have identified three critical hires for the zoo before accreditation: a staff veterinarian, a wildlife curator from an accredited institution and a zoo horticulturist.

Officials have already fulfilled one of those requirements, with the hiring about a month ago of a new veterinarian that exclusively serves the zoo.

With $6.71 projected funds on hand, convention commission officials also are looking forward to several projects in the upcoming fiscal year, including development on the Historic Eureka School Museum ($500,000), refurbishing the Oseola McCarty home into a civil rights museum ($90,000) and the Science Exploration Center project ($400,000). Approximately $2.15 million has been allocated for zoo development, which will include a giraffe exhibit and a new De Brazza’s monkey enclosure in the northwest quadrant of the zoo, among other additions.

Also in the works are improvements to the Kamper Park playground and an added water play area at a cost of approximately $1 million.

“The zoo has generated substantial increase in demand for activities and attractions at Kamper Park and the zoo,” Taylor said. “As such, the convention commission is looking to expand the footprint of our work at the zoo by replacing the current playground with an expanded, more modern structure with safety turf flooring.

“In addition, if you’ve been to the zoo on a Saturday, especially in this weather, the splash pad is standing room only – literally, kids don’t have room to run from water jet to water jet. So we’ve identified that we need to identify a little more robust water play area. This would be a ticketed-entry activity that will create additional revenue streams for our museums, as well as continued future growth at the zoo.”

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