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TBID BUDGET TALKS UNLEASH WRATH
Tourism Business Improvement District faces business and citizen scrutiny at its July 27, 2023 meeting.
Note: This article was originally published in the print edition of The Desert Trail on August 2. We felt it deserved republishing as the TBID budget is on the August 22 City Council agenda. Thanks to The Hi-Desert Star, The Desert Trail and Kurt Schauppner for permission to republish.
By Kurt Schauppner
TWENTYNINE PALMS — Discussion of a proposed 2023-24 budget for the city’s Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) turned personal as speakers charged board members with failing to bring more tourists to Twentynine Palms.
The business improvement district is funded by proceeds of a 1.5% tax added to bills at Twentynine Palms hotels and vacation home rentals.
Board members met Thursday, July 27 and voted 4-1 to send a proposed 2023-24 spending plan to the city council for its approval. Board member Maria Madrid declined to vote.
The proposed spending plan calls for the TBID to hire a second full-time staff member, and a part-time staff member to work with Director of Marketing Breanna Dusastre at the Twentynine Palms Visitor Center.
It calls for pulling $150,000 out of a $500,000 reserve fund to meet expenses for the new fiscal year.
“I am not against paying people,” local hotel owner Veno Nathraj said but he added that he objected to increasing payroll expenses at the tourism board when his hotels are doing so poorly he cannot afford to give his staff enough hours for them to make a living wage.
Like others, he slammed the board for not placing the proposed budget in the meeting agenda packet on the city website.
“Why wasn’t this shown to the stakeholders before it was presented so we could come prepared?” he asked.
“A lot of hard work went into this,” council member Octavious Scott said of the spending plan. “The public wants to be able to review this before they come to the meeting so they can do their homework.”
Board chairman Rakesh Mehta reminded residents that the spending plan still needs to be approved by the city council.
“Why have us here if we can’t comment on it?” resident Joseph Carder, an organizer of the resident group opposing placement of a wastewater treatment plant near their homes, said.
Eileen Leslie, who owns several vacation home rentals and is working to reopen the Bistro 29 restaurant and open a bar next door, asked board members to produce some demonstrable benefits of the money they have spent over the past five years.
Mehta noted on more than one occasion that members of the TBID board are volunteering their services to the community.
Nathraj objected to the TBID building a $500,000 budget surplus.
“You have all failed us stakeholders,” he said. “I would have to say I have to let you go.”
“I feel like you are failing us,” Leslie said.
“I am not stopping you from doing what you need to do,” Mehta told Leslie. “We are open to suggestions.”
“I am angry,” Leslie said. “That’s our money we earned for you. You’re five years in. “I feel so devalued right now.”
She added that she did not want the TBID to hire a second full-time staff member, suggesting they instead hire an influencer who could come in and create new events to bring tourists to the city.
“I am ready to resign right now,” Mehta said.
“You should resign, you have failed us,” Nathraj replied.
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