Visitor Center workshop ends without resolution

Joint committee to be formed to decide a plan

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— General consensus at Thursday's crowded workshop meeting said that the Moffat County Visitor Center is a valuable asset for the community and that it benefited every group present.

They did not agree whose responsibility it was to pay for it.

Moffat County, Craig Chamber of Commerce, Moffat County Tourism Association and city of Craig representatives came together at the County Courthouse, intending to reach something closer to an answer on how the Visitor Center could be funded.

"No one here is saying the Visitor Center isn't valuable, but the cost should be born by whom has the most value," County Commissioner Tom Gray said.

The fairest course would be to split the cost between the four groups, Commissioner Saed Tayyara said.

"I think collectively, together, we can come up with something to make up the difference of what (the Chamber) needs," Tayyara said. "I don't think the burden should fall all on one organization."

The assembled group decided to form a special committee, with two members from each entity, to work something out at a later date.

Presently, the Chamber projects a $14,000 deficit for 2008, which Executive Director Christina Currie said is due to the large cost of subsidizing the Visitor Center.

Gene Bilodeau, Chamber board president, started the workshop with an apology to the MCTA about how the situation progressed during the past few weeks.

Between the coverage in the Daily Press and private conversations, the Chamber and the MCTA have been put at odds, Bilodeau said. The discussion was never meant to become a fight, he said.

"I've expressed to the Chamber board that I'm fairly disappointed at the way this has evolved," Bilodeau said. "It almost appears to me that MCTA is being ambushed."

The Chamber had one question and asked for a meeting with the Moffat County Commission to make sure everyone was on the same page, he added.

"We want to find out what the rules are for that money (in the lodging tax fund)," Bilodeau said.

Lodging taxes make up MCTA's entire budget, and MCTA manages all lodging tax revenue from Moffat County.

By law, those funds can only be used for marketing and advertising in the interest of tourism.

However, those dollars are allowed to go toward a visitor center.

The law "encourages" those dollars to go toward an existing entity that is used for marketing and advertising, MCTA board president Tammie Thompson-Booker read from the legislation.

The Chamber believes lodging tax revenue should be used for the Visitor Center because of its value and benefit to the community in regards to tourism.

"Bottom line, (the Chamber thinks) the Moffat County Visitor Center is one of the best assets and the best investments this community is making," Currie said. "The sole function of the Visitor Center is to market and promote Moffat County attractions.

"The most logical place to go for help with that is the fund created for marketing and tourism in Moffat County."

Which is why MCTA upped its contribution to the Visitor Center from $8,000 in 2007 to $12,000 in 2008 when the Chamber asked for more money three months ago, MCTA board member Cindy Looper said.

MCTA feels the best use of its remaining budget is to attract tourists from out of the area to come to Moffat County, Thompson-Booker added.

"We're benefiting in this community - not from tourism right now - but from the energy companies," she said. "We need to plan now for the future when those oil and gas trucks stop coming."

The commissioners said they would not force MCTA to change its budget if its board did not agree to the changes.

"We have good citizens of the community on these boards with the best interests of the community at heart," Gray said. "These are volunteers, and if we start shooting them in the back, we won't have anybody."

As far as the county contributing more dollars, Tayyara said the Commission would look at the situation, but could not make a decision at the workshop.

Craig City Manager Jim Ferree has said the city would look at upping its contribution, also, but had questions regarding the MCTA budget.

A table from the 2007 Moffat County budget shows unspent revenue in the MCTA lodging tax fund each year from 2004 to 2007, including more than $80,000 in 2006 and more than $68,000 in 2007.

MCTA board members and Dan Davidson, a former MCTA board member and current director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, said that was probably because MCTA operates a year behind.

For instance, MCTA didn't spend 2006 taxes until 2007, which accounts for the carryover, they said.

However, no one at the meeting knew exactly how the funds were handled, they said.

MCTA is budgeting to spend all its funds in 2008, MCTA board member Cindy Looper said.

After the meeting, Bilodeau thought the Chamber had gotten its answer from the county and MCTA regarding the Visitor Center.

"They're not going to fund us," he said.

He agreed it is too late to form a committee to discuss the issue since 2008 is right around the corner.

"As I see it right now, we'll probably cut hours the Visitor Center is open, or cut hours we answer the phones, or cut staff hours," Bilodeau said. "One thing we're not going to do is go out to the Chamber members and put this burden on them."

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