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Changes coming to Pasco's tourism website

DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners Tuesday approved plans to reimburse tourism staffers for job-related expenses and to upgrade the county's tourism website.

The aim of the change is to make the site easier to navigate for smartphone users, a growing segment of site visitors. Hits from handheld devices have jumped 330 percent over the past year.

"The idea is to make it more user-friendly on a smartphone, a tablet or an iPad, and right now it's not very navigable," said Ed Caum, interim public communications manager.

The site's name, www.visitpasco.net, will stay the same and its content won't change much, with an emphasis on sports, eco-tourism and other tourism mainstays such as the Bug Jam.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to pay $25,000 to hire web designer Digital Lightbridge, which has offices in Tampa and New Port Richey. Commissioner Jack Mariano was absent.

The change comes as tourism officials are pushing for more event- and sports-related bookings. Nineteen events, from lacrosse to mud runs, are set next year, up from a handful of such events five years ago.

The Florida Sports Foundation, which helps counties market sports, visited Pasco a few years ago and suggested officials reach out to sports groups as a way to enhance their tourism taxes and help retailers and hotels.

The effort worked and now officials are seeking a sports-marketing specialist to coordinate activities and lure more tournaments.

They also requested a reimbursement policy to cover an escalating amount of job-related expenses, and got it.

While most expenses are comped, Caum said he recently paid $50 for meals while escorting travel writers along the coast. In March, county administrator Michele Baker paid $50 for fuel to take some German officials on a boat tour.

Chipping in for snacks, water and the occasional meal come with the job, but with the increased marketing officials' out-of-pocket costs are adding up, Caum said.

"We're in the hospitality business so people tend to expect this," he said.

Until Tuesday, the county didn't have a policy to reimburse those expenses.

Over the past few months, staffers perused policies from Alachua, Broward, Citrus, Collier, Gadsden, Leon and Hernando to create their own expense policy.

County commissioners approved the new policy 4-0, which reimburses travel-related expenses approved by the county administrator and county commissioners. Expense reports must include receipts. Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said the board would consider only fair and reasonable expenses. Travel budgets would be approved ahead of time.

In other business, commissioners gave 3 percent raises to Baker and County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder after approving similar raises to most other county employees last month.

Steinsnyder will see his salary go to $169,950. Baker, hired under a two-year contract in July, will see her pay increase to $175,100 a year.

Baker also receives a $450 monthly car allowance and is eligible for a $10,000 raise at the end of a year if she receives a favorable evaluation.

Her predecessor, John Gallagher, received the same car allowance and earned $180,000 a year.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Changes coming to Pasco's tourism website 10/08/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 7:04pm]
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