MILTON — Santa Rosa County Commissioners approved the Tourist Development Office Local Event/Marketing Program grants at Thursday's meeting. However, there was concern on how events followed up with the county on their results.

The application for the TDO event-marketing program stipulates the purpose of the grants is to increase out-of-market awareness of Santa Rosa County tourism brand as a tourist destination and to drive lodging room occupancy in the county by funding the promotional efforts of local events. Ninety percent of that advertising and marketing must be out-of-market — outside of Santa Rosa County.

For the fiscal year 2018-2019 cycles, $60,800 is available with a maximum of $5,000 per event. New to the program is sponsorship, which is for events that do not meet the criteria for grants, but still benefit the county. The total amount of sponsorship money is $14,950.

There was concern from the commissioners at Monday's meeting that some awardees were not complying with the grant application criteria, specifically post-event reporting. The grant application requires that to be eligible for payment, a completed post-event report must be submitted within 90 days of the end of the event.

Julie Morgan, director of the TDO, said the awarded grants cover a three-year period. For example, if an event does not complete the requirements on the second year, funding is withheld. But, the event is still eligible on the third year and payment would be made if the requirements are met for that year. 

Commissioner Williamson said he was concerned about return on investment for some of the events. Recipients not providing benefits to the county should be given less, he said.

"Are there some events that we should give additional funding to because they are on their way to a great success strategy and helping promote the Santa Rosa County tourism brand?" Williamson asked. "I just want to make sure that we're having that measurement and accountability phase."

Commissioner Parker, a new member of the Tourist Development Council, said some events have never completed post event reports. The TDC council had specifically identified several events, he said, that should not be funded because of the post-event issue.

At the next TDC meeting, those same events were back on the list to receive funding. That is when the sponsorship idea was introduced. Events not meeting the grant criteria, but still benefitting the county could receive some financial assistance.

"Our board (county commissioners) would be prudent, especially in the next cycle to hold that (post-event return on investment report) more accountable," Parker said.

According to Morgan, the TDO and the TDC give their recommendations to the county commissioners. Ultimately the commissioners have final approval of the event awards and disbursement of funds.