County's visitor center on the brink

— Next year, Moffat County may not have a visitor center.

At its meeting Thursday, the Craig Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors reviewed a draft budget for 2008 and discussed closing the Moffat County Visitor Center because of a projected $14,000 deficit in 2008.

"We need to be providing more services to our members," said Missy Bonaker, Chamber board treasurer. "We looked at this budget in those terms."

To accomplish that, the Chamber needs money to pay more staff to share the work between its office and the Visitor Center, or it needs to cut the center.

The Visitor Center - which has been part of the area for an estimated 20 years - costs between $75,000 to $79,000 each year, which includes staffing, brochures, maps and building costs, said Christina Currie, Chamber executive director.

The Chamber contributes more than half that, about $45,000 per year, to keep the Visitor Center open, which accounts for roughly one quarter of the Chamber's total $190,000 budget.

Local city and county government, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Moffat County Tourism Association also help pay for the center.

"As a community member, I would say it's foolish to close the Visitor Center," said Bryce Jacobson, Chamber board member. "As a Chamber board member, I see it's foolish the amount of money we're spending to keep it open at the expense of our members."

If the Visitor Center stays open, the current staffing is not adequate, Currie said.

The Visitor Center benefits from a sportsmen's information specialist that is full-time during hunting season and part-time the rest of the year.

The problem is that one position is not enough to service all the Visitor Center's needs, Currie said.

The Chamber employs two people other than herself.

Both of them - a full-time secretary and bookkeeper and a part-time receptionist - have to contribute time every day to manning the Visitor Center, including giving tours of the Marsha car, instead of working on Chamber member business, Currie said.

Running the Visitor Center and the Chamber with the current staffing and funding could cripple both entities for another year, Currie said.

Moffat County increased its funding for the center from $3,400 in 2007 to $7,500 in 2008, an equal match with the city of Craig's contribution.

The Chamber sought additional money from the DOW, which has not increased its funding for about 20 years, but that request was denied, Currie said.

Some Chamber board members felt the MCTA should contribute more than it currently does.

"Wouldn't they be more willing to step up and do some of this cost because we're, for a lack of a better way to say it, doing some of their duties?" said Dave Dempster, Chamber board member.

MCTA used to run out of the Chamber location, but in late 2006, the MCTA board decided to move its executive director, Shelly Flannery, out of the Chamber building and into the Museum of Northwest Colorado because board members felt her accommodations were not sufficient.

Prior to Flannery's move to the museum, MCTA contributed about $18,000 each year to the Chamber for expenses relating to its director and the Visitor Center.

In 2007, following Flannery's move, MCTA dropped its contribution to $8,000.

MCTA already has established its budget for 2008, and most likely will not be in a position to contribute more dollars next year, said Tammie Thompson-Booker, MCTA Board of Directors president.

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