Working the budget

MCTA budget workshop addresses Moffat County Visitor Center, goals

— Unexpected drops in lodging tax revenue from the latter half of 2007 prompted the Moffat County Tourism Association to convene a budget workshop Wednesday.

With fewer hotel stays the second half of 2007, the lodging tax fund, which makes up the MCTA budget, likely will not be as much as originally projected, board members said.

"We were really aggressive back in July, when we were all fat and happy," MCTA board president Tammie Thompson-Booker said.

Despite these setbacks, the MCTA board penciled in an extra $5,000 for the Moffat County Visitor Center. The board will make an official vote on proposed budget changes at its Feb. 20 meeting.

Among the board's ideas was to increase its promotional material budget from $8,000 to $15,000. The extra money will help pay for brochure projects, which the board identified as a top priority for 2008.

The board also considers its Web site a paramount project, and has unofficially slated about $5,000 for updates, or, if need be, buying a new domain and creating an MCTA homepage.

"That's your door to the world," MCTA board member John Ponikvar said. "You have to have an effective Web site."

Fourth-quarter earnings for 2007 will come in March. The MCTA board decided to budget for the approximately $155,000 it currently has in the bank, and roll over 2007 fourth quarter numbers to 2009.

High earnings the first half of last year likely were an isolated spike, Commissioner Tom Mathers said. MCTA should not count on that much money every year.

Board members agreed. When companies finish resource drilling, there will be fewer workers staying in local hotels, Thompson-Booker said.

And when those people are gone, the fund could take a big and long-lasting hit.

"I think we should be conservatively responsible with our funds this year," she said. "Anything we get additional, we need to carry over because I see the writing on the wall for where this fund is going."

Commission's concerns

The Moffat County Commission attended the workshop to share its members' views on the lodging tax fund and MCTA priorities.

"I guess where I come from, the Visitor Center is the most important thing on the table right now," Mathers said.

"I'll reiterate the fact that I would hate to see you run right out and hire a new director," he added, referring to finding a replacement for former Executive Director Shelly Flannery, whose resignation will be official Jan. 30.

The MCTA board agreed to cut its staffing budget from $53,000 to $36,000. Board members felt having a person handle projects and travel around the area is paramount to their goals.

"I don't know, but we sure need to do more than hand out brochures to people coming to the county," Thompson-Booker said. "I think that's how this fund is going to be successful."

The board previously approved $19,000 for the Visitor Center in 2008, after budgeting an additional $7,000 last December.

With MCTA's additional money, the $2,000 appropriation from the Craig Chamber of Commerce and $1,000 in private contributions, the Visitor Center is $5,000 in deficit with projected staffing costs, Chamber officials have said.

That money can be made up with an $8,000 reimbursement from the city of Craig to MCTA, which the Craig City Council approved Tuesday, Commission members said.

While discussing the $5,000 allocation, Mathers disputed the notion he had a conflict of interest because his daughter, Christina Currie, works as the Chamber executive director.

"I think we're going way past where we need to go," Mathers said. "You need to just fund the Visitor Center. Don't tell me I have a conflict of interest. My daughter works there, but I don't make out her checks or ask them to give her a raise."

With a spouse that used to be on the Chamber board and a daughter who works in a high position, Mathers should recuse himself from decisions about Chamber funding, Thompson-Booker said. Other community leaders have stepped back from situations for less, she added.

The Commission also requested progress with a new Memorandum of Understanding outlining long-term funding guidelines for the Visitor Center. The Commission drafted a proposal to have MCTA and the Chamber pay for 45 percent of Visitor Center costs each. The city of Craig and Moffat County would split the remaining 10 percent.

The joint committee on Visitor Center funding, made up of members from the four groups, plans to look at the agreement at a meeting Jan. 30.

Commission members thanked the MCTA board for its continued diligence and work to promote Moffat County. The fact the commissioners discussed Visitor Center funding does not mean they have lost confidence in MCTA board members, they said.

"I was the liaison for this board for a number of years, and I think you're a good board," Commissioner Tom Gray said. "I have watched you guys agonize over how to do this best, and your hearts are in the right place.

"As a commissioner, it's not our job, and I don't want it to be our job, to tell you how to spend this (lodging tax) money."

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