Commissioners consider use of county tourism funds


By Randi Pierce
Staff Writer

The budgeting of lodgers tax revenue (the county’s tourism funding) was a topic at an Archuleta County budget hearing Nov. 5, with questions raised over the local use of the funds and a lack of money budgeted to support the Visitor Center located on the west side of Pagosa Springs.

Under an agreement made in September 2011, the Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce facilitates the budget for county lodger’s tax revenues, with the approval of the Board of County Commissioners.

The draft budget for the revenue was presented at the hearing by Chamber Director Mary Jo Coulehan, revealing a budget with no funds to support the westside Visitor Center, but including funding for repairs and upgrades to the downtown Visitor Center, small grants funding, and funds for a lodging reservation system in conjunction with the Town Tourism Committee.

The draft budget shows an anticipated increase in lodger’s tax to the tune of three percent, with $88,300 budgeted.

Of that, per the agreement with the BoCC, $65,000 is pegged for the operation of the downtown Visitor Center.

What is missing from the budget is any funding for the westside Visitor Center, given $11,000 in the 2012 budget. The center is slated to close due to a lack of funding from the Town Tourism Committee and the pending move of the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation offices (the entities share a rented commercial space near City Market) to the old City Market plaza downtown, which the PSCDC has indicated it is in the process of acquiring.

At the hearing, Coulehan said it is not feasible to run the westside center without funding from the TTC, and that there would be a savings realized by not hiring staff for the center.

In response to commissioner questions, Coulehan called the westside center an experiment that was, “ill-prepared for” and that served a purpose, but would not work given the situation.

Budgeted discretionary funds are slated to be $10,000, with $5,000 of that amount targeted for repairs and $3,000 for possible upgrades.

Coulehan explained that the downtown visitor center is in need of, “significant” repair, and that possible upgrades include expanding the ambassador program, complete with technological upgrades (iPads for ambassadors to use).

A total of $5,100 is budgeted for the Book Direct program, with the total cost split with the TTC. The program allows visitors to book a hotel room (with Lodgers’ Association member hotels included) through the TTC’s website.

Coulehan said an estimated third of room nights booked are at establishments in the county, with the remainder in town.

The draft budget shows a total expenditure of $95,100 — requiring a dip into fund reserves of $6,800.

Following presentation of the draft budget, Chirag Patel, president of the Lodgers Association, requested that the association be given $10,500 from the fund, expressing concern over how much of the lodger’s tax funding was used for local marketing, with a large portion of total lodger’s tax revenue spent on the visitor center, and 100 percent of the county’s tourism funds used for local purposes.

Patel said more of the funds needed to be spent outside of the area to increase tourism, with Coulehan explaining that small grant funding allowed events to afford advertising in order to increase exposure.

Additionally, Joan Slavinski, Lodgers Association member, spoke of the desire for the lodgers to receive a portion of the lodgers tax revenue.

No final decisions were made at the hearing concerning how the funding will be allocated, though County Administrator Greg Schulte reminded the BoCC of the county’s agreement for the Chamber to administer the funding, and noted the board could direct the Chamber in the use of the funds.

The county tourism budget will be approved as part of the county’s 2013 budget on Dec. 11.