Norwich — Mayor Peter Nystrom on Wednesday proposed restoring the defunct city tourism director position, eliminated 11 years ago in budget cuts, as a full-time city employee under the city manager’s direction.
Nystrom also proposed creating a volunteer tourism commission, also eliminated years ago, to work with the new director. In a controversial move opposed by downtown businesses, the City Council eliminated the $116,000 funding for the tourism office in the spring of 2002 in budget cuts.
Nystrom, who is running for re-election in November, said the tourism position would be beneficial to the city, to local businesses and to the many civic events that draw thousands of visitors to the city each year.
He said the tourism director would work to promote events such as River Fest in June, A Taste of Italy and the Grecian Food Festival in September, the growing Rock the Docks summer concert series and local museums and tourist attractions.
Nystrom did not propose a salary, saying it would depend on the applicants’ experience, but said the clerical support for the director would be the mayor’s office secretary. Nystrom proposed using the old job description for the city tourism director, making only minor revisions.
“Investing in a strong coordinated tourism effort will enhance the city of Norwich efforts to rebuild our grand list, as this will further encourage business retention and recruitment of new businesses,” he said.
Nystrom said his proposal would be taken up by the council next spring in the annual budget process, creating the position for the 2014-15 budget year.
Democratic mayoral candidate and Alderman Charles Jaskiewicz disagreed and said he would not support consideration of the position until after the budget process. He said he doubted the city would have the money to pay for a new tourism director.
“While the idea can be looked at, it needs be looked at after we evaluate our budget and see what is capable,” Jaskiewicz said. “I don’t want to go funding a tourism position and go lay off city workers again.”
Jaskiewicz in the spring voted against eliminating three positions in the city fire and human services departments while funding vacant police positions. He said the city first should explore possible public-private partnerships with the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce or Norwich Rotary and look into options to enlist volunteers to help with tourism efforts.
Democratic mayoral candidate Deberey Hinchey, who is challenging Jaskiewicz in a Sept. 10 primary, said Wednesday night that she had not seen the proposal and it would be too early to say whether she would support it in next year’s budget.
“I am sure we have to capitalize on tourism, like Uncas Leap,” Hinchey said.
Libertarian mayoral candidate William Russell could not be reached to comment Wednesday evening.