Chamber of commerce interim president: Rabbit Fest facing uncertain future
By LYNETTE SOWELL
The Copperas Cove Chamber of Commerce held a members’ forum on Tuesday at the VFW Post 8577, attended by several business members of the chamber, current board chair Tammy Rodriguez, as well as board chair-elect JC Stubbs, and board members Dr. William Louis, Charlotte Heinze and Vicki O’Dell.
Interim chamber president Maurice Tobin led the forum, with the subject surrounding the 2018 Rabbit Fest as well as the future of the festival.
Tobin was frank about the challenges the chamber faces to pull off the annual event, held the third weekend in May for more than 30 years. Tobin has been with the chamber for the past 13 years.
“I’ve seen a dramatic change in the relationship between the chamber and the city as a whole. We’ve come to this point because if we do not come to a decision, then Rabbit Fest in the next year or two will not be feasible for us. Financially, it’s just not possible for us to do under the current situation. That current situation is the 25 percent we’re talking about, and the fees we pay. They went up dramatically, so we have to decide in order to operate as a chamber and to continue to do what we’re supposed to do, and that, is, taking care of the businesses in copperas cove.”
Handouts were provided which showed the fees charged by the City of Copperas Cove related to Rabbit Fest, amounting to $23,604.17. The total amount does have several fees waived, such as fees for the message boards, barricades, and the use of a dump truck and a backhoe for new base for the parking lot, and a fee waiver for using the Civic Center. Among the $fees are services for parking and traffic control from the police which amount to $14,793.90 for the 330 service hours during the festival.
Another handout was a copy of City of Copperas Cove ordinance 2015-24, authorized by the Copperas Cove city council in August 2015 which concerns “a methodology for the issuance of licensing agreements” in which the chamber uses city facilities for its events.
Those events were listed, which include Rabbit Fest and a number of events the chamber no longer holds. The ordinance also includes language which states the city receives 25 percent of all proceeds the chamber receives for chamber sponsored events as negotiated by the city manager.
At the time that ordinance was enacted, the chamber had applied for and was receiving hotel occupancy tax funds for its tourism events. However, for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 fiscal years, that hasn’t occurred.
“We decided at the time, due to the regulations and the way we were being governed with the HOT funds, we chose not to partake in the HOT funds. Which is our prerogative to do so,” Tobin explained. “Then some other stuff got tacked on. Why has that happened? I’ve been asking myself that.”
He did confirm the chamber still holds tourism events like Rabbit Fest, to which people come from Dallas and Austin, “bringing outside people into our local area, putting heads in beds.”
“But we’re not running under the regulation of the HOT funds, which was very difficult to do.”
Last year, Tobin they looked at the numbers and called it “gross negligence” for him and the board to go forward with Rabbit Fest under the current situation.
“I, in this position, along with the board, have to decide the best direction…Here’s my thought. We need to get back to the basics of taking care of the businesses who are our primary focus, and that is to promote and bring in commerce to Copperas Cove.” He said that Rabbit Fest does bring business to Copperas Cove in terms of tourism, but “we are no longer in the tourism world.”
Board chair Tammy Rodriguez said the chamber of commerce will be on the agenda for the January 16, 2018 city council workshop. She added that there the chamber has had monthly meetings with city reps, bringing forth suggestions from the chamber.
“I think part of what’s missing is that we used to as a chamber receive HOT funds. That is no longer the case. Those fees were put into place when we received HOT funds.”
One member asked about the “dropdead day” on making a decision about Rabbit Fest 2018. Tobin said that planning for Rabbit Fest starts as soon as the current year's festival is over.
Tobin said for Rabbit Fest 2018, they’re moving forward at this time “because we have to, but we can’t stop right now…. Just like Krist Kindl Markt, we can’t stop doing what we have to do, we have vendors depending on us to deliver what we are going to deliver.”
Another question asked about what Rabbit Fest revenues were, relative to expenses. Tobin said last year, revenues were $114,000.02, with $22,000 left over after expenses. Then after paying “everything else” after all was said and done, it left the chamber with $6,000.
“We didn’t account for hours of the salaried people, because it wasn’t considered tourism.” Tobin said only his salary at that time came out of tourism, because he worked specifically on the event itself.
One option discussed was the possibility of holding Rabbit Fest somewhere else other than at Copperas Cove City Park. Another option would be to cancel it altogether. The chamber of commerce trademarked Rabbit Fest, so if the City of Copperas Cove were to hold its own multi-day festival and call it Rabbit Fest, they would have to purchase the rights to the name and all that goes along with it.
For now, Tobin specifically called for chamber business members to attend the January 16 city council workshop.
“We hope that when we meet, there are some changes that will come in our favor,” Tobin said. “By the end of January, after that meeting, we’ve got to make a decision.”