Supervisors offer little hope for visitors bureau
The days of the Plumas County Visitors Bureau appear to be numbered.
That was the general impression during a lively discussion by the Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday, Dec. 13.
The bureau received $37,000 from the county in September to keep its doors open through the end of the year. Director Suzi Brakken said the bureau will need $73,000 more to keep operating until July 2012.
The money would have to come from the county’s dwindling contingency fund and would require approval from four of the five supervisors.
After a half hour of discussion, the board agreed to postpone a vote until late January, after the mid-fiscal year budget review.
If the vote had taken place Dec. 13, the bureau would have been cut off, judging by the supervisors’ comments.
Supervisors Sherrie Thrall and Terry Swofford said they were against giving the bureau more money.
“I just can’t, in good conscience, support additional funding for the visitors bureau at this point in time,” Thrall said.
Swofford was equally firm in his opposition.
“We gave (the visitors bureau) the $30,000 to give them time to close down. And we should stick with that decision,” he said.
Brakken said the board gave her the impression in September that the funding issue would be revisited after the $37,000 ran out.
“Sherrie (Thrall), I heard it very clear from you, that we would need to come back,” Brakken said.
Thrall said Brakken heard wrong.
“I said two years ago you should start looking for some other way to fund yourself,” Thrall told Brakken. “Because we could see the handwriting on the wall that the county’s funds were going downhill. And nobody did anything about that.”
Thrall said she has heard from “a large number of constituents” who are opposed to giving more money to the visitors bureau.
“It’s not that they think we don’t need to promote tourism,” she said. “They just don’t feel that it’s been adequately promoted in the way that it should have been with the funding that we have already given.”
Thrall added the visitors bureau, which is under the direction of Plumas Corporation, is not a county department.
“I think everybody needs to realize that,” Thrall said. “We don’t tell (Plumas Corporation and the visitors bureau) what to do. We don’t make decisions for them.”
Brakken said that while the visitors bureau isn’t a county department, it used to be. And it has received county funding for 80 years.
She added the visitors bureau is still on the county’s phone system. “We have a post box downstairs. So we really are a little bit different.”
“We might need to look at that,” Thrall said. “Because you shouldn’t be. Because legally you are not a county agency.”
Brakken said that, unlike many county agencies, the visitors bureau helps generate revenue for the county.
“We’ve got stats to prove it,” Brakken said. “The TOT (transient occupancy tax) has grown considerably due to the efforts of us and our partners.”
Several lodging providers attended the meeting to give testimonials about the support and revenue they have received from the visitors bureau’s efforts.
The $73,000 question
The board said that giving money to the visitors bureau would mean taking that much away from another entity.
Supervisor Jon Kennedy said he agreed with Thrall “in terms of priorities and money and where the heck do we get it?”
Kennedy said it was appropriate to wait until January when the board would have better financial numbers on which to base its decision.
Chairwoman Lori Simpson said she felt the same way.
“I think it’s important that we do promote our county,” she said. “I would maybe support looking at allocating some more funds if there were some available after the mid-year review.”
Supervisor Robert Meacher didn’t take part in the discussion, but voted his approval to table the vote until January.
Kennedy said the county has an obligation to use some of the $1 million in tax revenue generated by lodging providers for marketing the county.
“Although the visitors pay the TOT, it is the lodging providers that put their blood, sweat and tears into building a business to get those people in,” Kennedy said. “I think the county does have a moral fiduciary obligation to take care of those people, those entities, those companies, the lodging providers, that are responsible for bringing us in a million bucks. Because if it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t be the million bucks.”
Off again, on again
Brakken had the visitors bureau matter pulled from the agenda the day before the Dec. 13 meeting. She said she thought it would be better to give the board the bureau’s funding request after the mid-year budget review.
She sent an email to notify lodging providers and other supporters who had planned to attend the meeting.
Thrall said she had prepared to discuss the visitors bureau funding and objected to having the item pulled from the agenda. So when the meeting began, she had the item returned to the agenda for discussion.
Brakken was notified by County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad that the item was back on the agenda. She sent a short-notice email to lodging providers and several were still able to attend the meeting.
Thrall explained why it was important to keep the visitors bureau on the agenda.
“One of the reasons that I wanted to discuss it is that, as the public may or may not know, the Board of Supervisors can’t call each other up, email or Facebook post and discuss these issues outside of the public arena,” Thrall said. “So (supervisors) have not had a chance to talk to any of the other supervisors to see how they feel about funding, or what is going on with the visitors bureau.
“The last time we met and had a discussion in September we funded the visitors bureau to take them through the end of the year.
“At that time, it was my understanding that we did that so as not to pull the rug out from under them suddenly. That we gave them time to transition and close down. Which I thought was happening.”