Laura Overstreet, the tourism director hired by Rappahannock County four years ago to coordinate efforts to raise the county’s profile among potential visitors, is retiring effective Jan. 1.
Overstreet announced her intention to step down in a Nov. 9 letter to the Board of Supervisors, “after much reflection and consideration.” As she says in that letter, under her watch the county has established a county tourism website, coordinated marketing and advertising programs and an overall increase of “brand awareness.” Also the county has hosted local, national and international travel media who’ve covered its many draws, and has created marketing partnerships with Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Virginia Film Office and other like-minded organizations.
“We have initiated social media marketing through Facebook and published the 2012 Rappahannock County Visitors Guide, promoted countywide festivals and events, and organized the Rappahannock County Farm Tour,” she writes. “The Rappahannock County Visitors Center, which opened Labor Day 2010, has already served thousands of visitors and locals alike and is a welcome center for all who come our way. For the calendar year 2011, we reported a 3-to-1 rate of return in meals and lodging taxes from our investment in tourism marketing.”
Though Overstreet recommends in her letter that the county consider hiring a full-time tourism marketing professional on staff, discussions among supervisors in recent months have focused instead on hiring a deputy county administrator, among whose duties would be tourism marketing.
The deputy position reportedly would be only partially funded by the current budget allocation – $30,000 a year – assigned to pay Overstreet’s fees as a part-time consultant. With advertising, design and printing and other tourism-related costs included, the county’s annual expenditures on tourism promotion are approximately $50,000.
“It is my hope that this time of transition will present an opportunity for the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors and other county decision-makers to evaluate the growing role of tourism and its impact on the economic health and vitality of Rappahannock County and quality of life for its residents,” Overstreet writes. “This evaluation can pave the way to developing new avenues of funding for tourism marketing programs that will help to sustain and expand the county’s tourism industry, which today is comprised of more than 100 primarily small and privately owned businesses that directly and indirectly serve the traveling public. New revenue streams can be created from visitor-generated taxes to increase tourism marketing efforts in support of a growing tourism economy.”
The possibility of an admissions tax – a tax added to the ticket costs for certain events held in the county – has been tossed around by the supervisors in recent months, and a proposal to introduce a bill in the General Assembly authorizing the county to pursue such a tax is currently on the desk of 18th district Del. Michael Webert, the county’s representative to the General Assembly.
County Administrator John McCarthy said the supervisors will most likely discuss future possibilities for tourism promotion after it formally accepts Overstreet’s resignation at its regular monthly meeting Monday (Dec. 3).
In other county personnel developments, the Rappahannock County Electoral Board voted shortly after the Nov. 5 elections to appoint Kimberly McKiernan as the county’s Registrar of Voters, to fill the three-plus years remaining on former registrar Nancy Newlin’s term. McKiernan, who was hired two months ago in an acting capacity, said Registrar’s Office administrative assistant Sheran Rigg will also continue in her position.
“We are truly thankful to everyone who made the election a success including the Electoral Board, the poll workers and our staff (who worked more than 85 hours in the week leading up to and including election night),” McKiernan said in an email. “I personally am truly thankful for the opportunity to work in, and for, my own community for the first time in the 20-plus years I’ve been a resident of Rappahannock. We are looking forward to a long and successful career serving the county.”