From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 27 - September 25, 2008
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Visitors Center Caught In Tug Of War

by Tiffany Turner

The Sublette County Chamber of Commerce, running the Visitors Center since its construction last summer, and the Sublette County Tourism Board, which funds a portion of the center’s operating costs, are in disagreement over each entity’s funding responsibility for the center.

The two groups, unable to agree on funding between them, met with the county commissioners on Tuesday to receive input and try to find a medium both could agree on.

The Tourism Board receives its funding from a previously passed lodging tax and has paid rent for office space within the building, all summer-help wages and housing and a portion of the operating fees. The county has a lease with the Chamber of Commerce for the building. The board does not want to pay for office equipment and other items used mostly by the Chamber, which is a private business entity. The Chamber argues that since it staffs and runs the center, tourism tax dollars should support a majority of the operating fees.

“We do 100 percent of the work in the Visitors Center and we don’t think we should be responsible for 50 percent of the maintenance,” said Chamber Director Terrie Swift.

Deputy County Attorney Jonathon Foreman, assigned by the commissioners to assess the situation when they learned of the conflict, said he felt the three listed costs – summer staffing, rental and the physical operation of the center – were valid and dismissed the costs such as a copier machine ostensibly used more for Chamber business, and other similar items.

Foreman said he looked at the Chamber’s request for an additional $1,800 monthly for operating costs and “arrived at the number being asked for by the chamber as a fairly reasonable number.”

The Tourism Board stated they would the Visitors Center this year if they get more control over the facility’s operation. To this, the Chamber offered liaison position on its board and a Chamber member to attend Tourism Board meetings to increase the communication between the two parties.

Even with this proposal, the two parties could not reach an agreement.

Commission Chairman Bill Cramer, who stated numerous times he did not see this as an issue to be resolved by the commission, explained what would happen should the two parties not reach an agreement.

“I’ll tell you in my own harsh opinion,” he said. “We own the building and if we kick you all out, we will find someone to rent it. I don’t want t odo that – we need some kind of meeting of the minds here.”

Another point of tension between the two parties was that the Tourism Board saw the Chamber only referring visitors to Chamber members.

Commissioner Joel Bousman, who also heard this “accusation,” said he went to the Visitors Center and found it to be a fallacy.

“I found out that was not true,” he said. “When they were handing out brochures they we handing out everybody’s.”

The Chamber offered to vacate the building should an agreement not be reached. The Tourism Board favored this as it would leave all control of the Visitors Center and its funding to them.

The Commission urged the two parties to meet and try and reach a solution on their own, as the only solution the commission saw was to have both parties vacate the building.

“To me it seems obvious that your objection is almost the same,” Bousman said. “Alot of this argument is basically over nothing.”

Cramer agreed, stating the Tourism Board has the money and the Chamber has the lease on the building and again urged the two parties to find their own answers.

“I don’t have a dog in this fight,” he told the Tourism Board. “You’ve got to give a little to get a little.... There has to be peace in th evalley.”

The two boards agreed to meet again and try to reach some agreement. A letter will be sent to the commission with the resulting decisions.

Also at the commissioners’ meeting:

• Kathy Anderson, Treatment Court coordinator, agreed to aid the commission in keeping tabs on the different youth-oriented programs supported by the commission. The commissioners requested this to be more aware how their funds are being spent and what the results are, as well as to ensure there is no overlap of county-supported services.

• R.S. Bennett Construction was accepted as the low bidder to receive the contract to bring Meadowlark Lane to Class II road specifications.

• The commissioners approved Rick Huffman’s request to allow local contractors to bid on a scale house and water well to go along with the scales to be installed next month.

• Joe and Melanie Sampson spoke with the commissioners concerning their road, which currently names them responsible for it up to $1 million dollars. The commissioners explained the road was not capable of being accepted as a Class II road as it only had a time-limited BLM license on it. The commission did agree to look into other options that would take the liability issue away from the Sampsons.

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