Home rule or March Madness?

Times-News editorial board

It may seem a little confusing why Morton donated $10,000 toward the sponsorship of the March Madness Experience.

Indeed, in times when village officials are working hard to keep expenses down — even considering cutting police officers, paramedics and capital projects — it should not be too hard to turn down an out-of-towner looking for a handout, especially one that has to do with a high school sport and usually takes advantage of corporate sponsors.

The Illinois High School Association March Madness refers to the boys basketball state finals. Peoria has been the host of the state finals games since 1996, when the event grew from just basketball games to an experience of interactive, family-oriented games and historical exhibitions.

When corporate sponsorship totals were lower than expected this year, the March Madness Steering Committee chairman, Brad Halverson, looked to regional cities to make up the difference.

Morton responded with a $10,000 donation, Pekin donated $5,000, East Peoria is expected to donate, and now Washington has joined the list of city sponsors with a $5,000 contribution.

Last year, more than 74,000 people swarmed not only Peoria, but the entire region, Morton included.

These additional 74,000 people need a place to eat, sleep and shop.

Morton Tourism director Susan Pyles said she has no doubt that during the two-weekend event, Morton has a lot to gain.

“Both of those weekends, (visitors) fill our hotels,” Pyles said.

Pyles said the economic impact in Morton is about $70,000. About $50,000 is gained through hotel visits alone. The rest is collected through guest purchases for food and other retail items.

Although IHSA already granted the Peoria Civic Center another five-year contract, ensuring it will host March Madness until 2015, the sponsorships by local cities will help keep the event a success for both participants and local businesses who benefit from the 74,000-plus additional people who may choose to eat, sleep and shop in surrounding towns.

But, the contribution from Morton does not come from the village’s general fund. It is withdrawn from the village’s tourism budget, which is funded largely by hotel stays. The village, a non-home-rule community, is only able to designate money from its tourism fund to tourism-related events. Similar contributions are made to organizations, such as the Morton Blaze or Morton High School band boosters, because the village expects the organizations’ events will draw hotel visits.

Sure, that money could easily be placed toward the general fund to pay for those police officers, paramedics and capital projects. But, it will cost the residents a vote in favor of home rule — a measure that was suggested by Morton Mayor Norm Durflinger to help generate revenue and offset a general-fund budget deficit.

If anyone wants to question the March Madness Experience contribution from the village of Morton, its benefits will be much more evident than those gained from a previous tourism-related contribution that has yet to show Morton got its $10,000 worth — ahem, Peoria Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau grant.