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Tourism district approves outstanding payments, looks to current fiscal year

Windham — With the state Office of Tourism satisfied with the plan to resolve a breach of contract, the Eastern Regional Tourism District is resolving outstanding issues from the last fiscal year and finally planning for the current one.

At a meeting at Windham Town Hall this week, the 20 board members in attendance voted to approve contracts to spend the remaining funds from the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, and to authorize the smaller executive committee to make decisions for this year.

"We met, we scrambled, we cured the breach and now we're ready to move forward," said interim board Chairman Jim Bellano, economic development director in Windham.

The district didn't get a contract from the state to sign last year until April, giving it little time to expend its $400,000. Bellano said Thursday an audit shows that $156,749.73 went unspent, down from a previous estimate of $161,941.43.

The board on Thursday approved a $110,000 contract with Makiaris Media for a digital media campaign, $10,850 to consultant Ed Dombroskas, and $7,000 to the auditors, the Groton-based Hoyt Filippetti & Malaghan LLC.

The digital media campaign, though, will end up being closer to $140,000, as the board opted to defer $27,000 that was slated for the distribution of brochures. The board opted to defer the printing and distribution of three brochures — Antique Trails, Foodie Finds and Ice Cream Trail — due to concerns that some have outdated information.

The $10,850 payment to Dombroskas, who was not at Thursday's meeting, was for the 155 hours he's worked as administrative coordinator for the district since July 1, whereas he said previously he was paid about $18,000 for his work through June 30.

As for the audit, the Office of Policy and Management first gave the auditors an extension to Jan. 31, and Bellano said OPM granted another 30-day extension.

Bellano had said last month that the audit was submitted, but he clarified Thursday that Office of Tourism Director Randy Fiveash had some questions so the auditors got a second extension.

Looking ahead, the district is seeking a new nonprofit partner for the rest of this fiscal year and for the one beginning July 1. The Office of Tourism mandates a nonprofit partner but is dissatisfied with the current use of Norwich Community Development Corporation, instead wanting a partner whose primary mission is tourism.

The district posted a Request for Qualifications this week. Bellano also sent the solicitation directly to the Eastern Connecticut, Greater Mystic, Greater Norwich Area, Windham Region and Northeastern Connecticut chambers of commerce, along with The Last Green Valley and the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition.

The district still owes NCDC $3,000, from a December 2019 bill and a January 2020 bill. But Fiveash said that because those bills are from Fiscal Year 2020, they must be paid with FY20 funds, which the state has not yet given the district because it is still resolving FY19 issues.

Bellano asked board members to provide input on the draft FY20 contract between now and the executive committee meeting on March 6, and the board authorized the executive committee to sign the contract.

Also at the meeting, board member Tracey Hanson explained the five committees being formed — some resurrected from past years, and some new — and solicited members. Those committees are nominating/membership, marketing, bylaws, legislative affairs and budget.

Board member Stephen Gencarella also pitched a cultural heritage approach to promoting tourism, a ground-up approach that is more focused on sense of place than on specific attractions.

e.moser@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the nature of the cultural heritage approach to promoting tourism.

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