From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 29 - October 9, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Chamber, Tourism boards still seek compromise

by Tiffany Turner

Two years ago Pinedale welcomed a long-awaited new addition to its main street – the Sublette County Visitor’s Center.

Since that time, a dispute has arisen between the two entities charged with the duty of maintenance and funding as well as the building’s actual operation. A conflict has arisen between the county’s Tourism Board and the Chamber of Commerce as to which is responsible for what aspects of the center.

During a meeting with county commissioners last month, the two groups established these issues are beginning to affect the services provided by the center and that, as far as both boards can see, a solution is a long way off. The commission advised the two boards to continue working towards a mutually satisfactory agreement, as neither board may like the eventual decision of the commission should it come to that point.

The two boards, although attempting to find a common ground, continue to disagree on the fundamental agreement between the two parties and where the responsibility for the disagreement lays.

“The problems between the two boards have at its root, a broken promise,” said Chamber President Forest Wakefield. “The land the Visitor Center sits on was given to Sublette County by the Korfanta family as a permanent home for the Chamber of Commerce.”

According to Wakefield, that was the original plan until the Tourism Board chose to be a part of the project and create the Visitor's Center we see today, which was built by the county with understanding that the Tourism Board and Chamber would work together on its operation and funding. According to the Chamber, this agreement was that the Tourism Board would fund the center upon its completion.

“The Tourism Board has reneged on their side of the deal,” Wakefield said. “They have only partially funded the building since January and are a direct reason for its limited hours. It should be noted that they paid $6,000 a month for the first six months and since then have paid no more than $1,600 a month plus summer staffing expenses. How can they believe there would not be a shortfall?”

Wakefield added that with membership dues and fundraising, the Chamber still cannot fund the Visitor’s Center; their purpose is to simply run it day to day.

This inability to pay the operating costs themselves is what the Tourism Board sees as the root of the argument, said Tourism Board member Mary Thompson. The Tourism Board has stated previously that they do not feel the center is being run properly and will supply more funds should the board garner more say in the facilities operations.

“The Tourism Board believes that most of the anxiety between the Tourism Board and the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce exists because the Chamber has a cash flow problem, something that the Tourism Board was not aware of until the recent meeting before the county commissioners,” she said. “We sympathize with their situation; however, we feel strongly that the Tourism Board has to be diligent and transparent in dispersing funds. We felt we wanted input from the county commissioners regarding this matter. The Chamber is after all a private business organization.”

Democratic candidate for the State House, Jim Roscoe, volunteers at the Visitor’s Center this week to help at the front desk while funding is up in the air.
With this conflict ongoing, the Tourism Board has proposed to run the Visitor’s Center itself while the Chamber has offered to vacate the center (a difficult move since the property was left to the Chamber originally). The Chamber does not see this as a viable option.

“The best solution for Sublette County tax payers is that the Tourism Board funds the current Chamber of Commerce management proposal which a county attorney has reviewed and deemed fair,” Wakefield said. “If the Tourism Board is to take over complete operational control of the Visitor’s Center, funding for marketing will suffer, as it will cost the Tourism Board much more money to operate the Visitor’s Center than contracting the Chamber of Commerce to run the Visitor’s Center.”

According to the Chamber, this additional money will come from a need to fully staff the Visitor’s Center, have someone there at all time to manage the facility as well as coordinate many of the Chamber-sponsored fundraising events that help with the Visitor’s Center.

Both parties say a solution is not forthcoming.

The two boards remain in opposition over the monetary responsibilities toward the Visitor’s Center.

“We have met with the Tourism Board since the county commissioner meeting,” Wakefield said. “However, the new proposal which we were promised a chance to review has remained elusive.”

Thompson disagreed, stating a proposal was presented to the Chamber Tuesday.

“We have been working hard behind the scenes,” she said.

“The TB is not happy that there has been disagreement with the Chamber of Commerce; the issues however are not huge and they can be resolved,” Thompson added. “Anyone in business knows that discord happens and does take time to address and resolve. We felt that the meeting with the county commissioners was very helpful, as we hoped it would be, and we are looking forward to a positive solution and support of the lodging tax in the election.”

The lodging tax could make the entire argument a moot point. Without the lodging tax being passed again, the Tourism Board will cease to exist and the Visitor’s Center will have to find another funding source anyway.

According to Wakefield, in that event the center will hopefully funded by Sublette County with possible participation from the different municipalities. The Commissioners have budgeted to support the center, but have not yet voted the support into reality.

The one thing both boards can agree on is that it is a great benefit to the county to have the building and have it operational.

“It is a handsome building that we are fortunate to have, and we want everyone to have access to it from the restrooms, to the history on display, to the information handouts and more,” Thompson said.

Photo credits:  Terrie Swift Courtesy

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