Moffat County Tourism, economic development merger idea stirs questions | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County Tourism, economic development merger idea stirs questions

Lauren Blair and Sasha Nelson

Moffat County Commissioners hosted a workshop with the Moffat County Tourism Association board Sept. 7 to discuss legal findings and options for combining the organization with Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership and the Local Marketing District. It’s not yet clear what shape the merger may take, but tourism board members are asking for the process, which has largely been led by Commissioner Frank Moe thus far, to be more inclusive of all 27 board members from the three organizations.

CRAIG — After months of research to explore the legality of combining three tourism and economic development-related entities in Moffat County, city and county officials have brought the conversation back to the public forum, perhaps creating more questions than answers.

Last week, Moffat County commissioners presented three proposed options to the boards of Moffat County Tourism Association and the Craig/Moffat Economic Development Partnership, which are considering the proposal to join forces with the Moffat County Local Marketing District.

"This was just a starting point, and we're hearing feedback from each group," said Commissioner Frank Moe. "It's about efficiency. The original concept is taking the existing people doing the jobs, connecting the dollars available from LMD and MCTA and having a common plan to get things done."

All three preliminary options, which Moe again stressed are only starting points, would create a combined economic development and tourism director position that would oversee a tourism manager, a business services-broadband assistant and an administrative assistant. The concept names a total of four paid staff compared to current combined staffing level of three.

In two of the three options, the Craig city manager would be involved in managing or advising the director. Overseeing the whole lot would be a newly formed, nine-person LMD board made up of appointees from existing boards plus city, county and town of Dinosaur representatives.

MCTA board members reacted to the latest proposal with some skepticism, despite a general interest in exploring the concept.

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"Why weren't those boards brought together to work on those plans?" asked Tammie Thompson-Bookerm, as a citizen instead of in her role as an MCTA Board Co-Chair, during Craig City Council's public comment period Tuesday. "Why is a marketing entity that has been in this community for 27 years suddenly being handed over to the city?"

Chair Shannon Moore also voiced a desire to see the process be more inclusive of the organizations themselves.

"I think that consolidation could be good, but I think it has to be done the right way, and I think there has to be a lot more participation from members of all three boards," said MCTA Board Chair Shannon Moore. "The members that sit on these boards are the ones that know best what these organizations do and how they operate, so those members are going to be vital in creating a functional system."

The question of the legality of a full merger is not yet clear, since the funding sources for LMD and MCTA — both voter-approved taxes levied on the lodging industry — come with legal strings attached. A memo compiled by County Attorney Rebecca Tyree for the commissioners does present some options, however.

In short, the MCTA board could elect to "use" LMD, which shares a common mission to market and promote tourism, to administer its funds and carry out its mission to enhance local tourism, and "MCTA funds might be better utilized if they could be combined with funds from the LMD," the memo said.

However, a longer version of the memo obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request offers a more direct answer to the question of legality.

"Although the three entities cannot be combined, it would be possible to appoint members to the LMD from the other two entities if the three entities (Moffat County, city of Craig and town of Dinosaur) chose to do so," the memo said.

Moe said he and other officials are gathering other ideas for how a combined entity could be structured. Moving forward, he said one board member suggested to hold a large meeting of all three boards — consisting of 27 board members — and local government officials to address questions and concerns. Negotiations could then continue with selected representatives from each board.

"My job right now is to listen to everybody and get everybody's opinion," said City Manager Mike Foreman. "I think it's going to take the entire group coming together to make a decision on what's the best route."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.

Current estimated funds

LMD: $280,000

MCTA: $140,000

CMEDP: $20,000

City funding to CMEDP: $35,000

County funding to CMEDP: $35,000

Total combined funds: $510,000

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