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Plumas chambers unite and seek funding to promote county

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

Once upon a time there was a Plumas County Chamber of Commerce. There was also a Plumas County Visitors Center. Over the years, those entities disappeared and four individual chambers took on the responsibilities of marketing this county — at first with financial support from the Board of Supervisors, but then that vanished also.

Now those chambers are banding together under the Plumas County Chambers Coalition banner, and representatives attended the Board of Supervisors meeting March 8 to ask for funding for their efforts.

Richard Aiple, the general manager of Nakoma Resort and a member of the Lost Sierra Chamber of Commerce, spoke on behalf of the coalition.

Aiple said that the individual chambers are essentially performing all marketing functions for Plumas County, and the results can be seen in TOT (transient occupancy tax), which accounts for 7.3 percent of the county’s general fund. Their efforts also translate into increased sales and property tax revenues that flow into the county coffers. But Aiple and the other chamber representatives are convinced that so much more could be accomplished with a united, funded effort.

“As individual units we aren’t getting all that we want done,” Aiple told the supervisors. He said that while it’s important to have chambers established in each area of the county, there also must be a united effort.  “The people in this room aren’t only committed; they are enthusiastic. They believe in what we’re doing.”

To accomplish their goals, Aiple said that the group needs funding — ongoing funding. “This is not a one-time fix; this is an investment in the chambers,” he said.

That said, Aiple asked for $50,000 for a one-time public relations campaign to counter the burn scar image of Plumas County, which has resulted from all of the Dixie Fire’s media coverage. The group also wants a second funding payment of $100,000 in July and then a commitment for $200,000 annually for the next 10 years. A good portion of the funding would be used to staff visitors’ centers.

Aiple said that the Dixie Fire became known as the Plumas County Fire despite the fact that it burned across five counties, and that impression impacts tourism. He said that future bookings aren’t occurring at the same pace that they once were and some individuals want to include air quality stipulations before they will make a reservation. Others are asking about the extent of the devastation. “We need visitors centers to address these concerns,” he said. The centers would operate seven days a week and paid staff is needed to accomplish that.

“Bottom line is we need your partnership,” Aiple said.

Aiple’s comments drew immediate support from Supervisor Greg Hagwood. He addressed the commitment and tenacity of the chamber members assembled and said, “This is a machine that this county relies on. It is absolutely incumbent upon this board to invest in the machine that generates the livelihood that we rely on.”

A Chester Chamber of Commerce member said the costs could be covered by the county if it simply collected the revenue it is currently missing from unreported short-term vacation rentals.

“We are working on that,” Hagwood said. “We have not captured them historically … but I am absolutely confident that it will more than make up for the cost.”

Board chairman Kevin Goss suggested that some of the $3.6 million COVID relief money, (the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, refereed to simply as ARPA), could be used for the chambers.

While the supervisors had allocated the ARPA funds during their March 1 meeting, “that’s not set in stone,” Goss said. He suggested that money earmarked for broadband internet could be covered by other revenue sources, thus freeing some of those funds potentially for the chambers.

Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said, “I absolutely support the coalition and the chambers,” and she suggested that the immediate $50,000 be taken from the county’s contingency fund.  However, she described the money as a “gift of public funds” and she would like a contractual relationship between the coalition and the board.

When asked how the $50,000 would be spent, Susan Bryner of the Chester chamber said that the group would probably hire a professional to carry out a PR campaign. “Someone to do it quickly and well,” she said.

Goss said that it was possible that the $50,000 could come from contingency funds, while the $100,000 sought in July could come from ARPA.

But the board couldn’t make any decision that day because County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr said that the items would need to be agendized for a vote. Any money taken from contingency requires a four-fifths vote.

The item is scheduled to be on the March 15 agenda.

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