Volume 106, Number 16 - April 16, 2009
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Tourism Board plans to continue programs
After Sublette County’s lodging tax was overturned at the ballot box last fall, the county’s Tourism Board is preparing to officially disband in light of the budgetary constraints.
“While it’s not our choice to be without the lodging tax, we’re working hard to try and continue the programs that look strong for the county, for tourism, for visitors,” said tourism board chairwoman Mary Thompson. “So that’s our goal — to make every penny count.”
The state’s fiscal budget begins on July 1, which also dictates how long the overturned lodging tax will be collected locally.
“If (a lodging tax) is defeated, (it’s collected) through June 30, the following year,” said Dan Noble, the administrator for Wyoming’s Excise Tax Division.
The final three months of collections are then retained for a year, though Noble is still unsure whether it’s the state treasurer or the county treasurer who will hold those funds.
“I know when this happened in Campbell County, I believe they were retained at the county level for a year,” said Noble. “That’s something I’m trying to figure out with the county treasurer.”
At the end of that year, the funds will then be distributed by the county on a proportional basis.
“We will be looking at 2007 and 2008 to ascertain the percentage,” said board member John Godfrey.
In those years, Pinedale contributed 78 percent of the total lodging tax revenue collected, which was $410,263 out of the $525,728 collected.
In the meantime, the tourism board is battening the hatches, hoping to fund a few long-term projects that might continue tourism promotion for the county.
“The Web site, brochures, the DVD project, advertising, things of that nature,” said Godfrey during the board meeting last Wednesday.
The tourism board recently renewed its two-year contract with Wes Gooch, who is the Webmaster that maintains and updates the board’s Web site.
“So he will be able to maintain it until the next opportunity to look at the lodging tax again,” said Godfrey.
The question remained, however, as to who would be available to answer any e-mail inquiries that were received through the Website.
Since the county has financed a full-time position to operate in the Visitor Center, it was suggested that he or she may be able to handle those duties, as well as contacting Gooch with updated events for the Web site.
Prior to last year’s vote, new brochures were also scheduled to be printed at the end of this year, but with the turn of events, the brochures’ status is now in question.
“Is an updated brochure a greater benefit to tourism promotion than grants to individual lodging properties for advertising?” asked Godfrey to the other board members.
Earlier in the meeting, Godfrey suggested the possibility of providing a one-time grant to lodging owners who applied and showed “how they’re going to use the money to advertise regionally for the purpose of drawing people in.”
“The lodging properties would like the advertising money in their pockets more than a brochure,” said Godfrey. “But let’s face it, the brochure would be blasted across the region.”
Board member Greg Ptasnik suggested that the board hold a meeting with lodging owners to discuss the issue.
And despite the delays, the summer and winter DVD projects have also been funded, with the summer video scheduled to be available for display this summer, though the final product likely won’t be finished until next summer.
The board also hopes to make them available for area businesses that are interested in displaying them, as well as an active display in the Visitor Center.
Beyond those primary projects, the board is continuing the funding of its Wyoming Public Radio advertising, as well as the long-standing grants it has used to fund local events and organizations.
“At our next meeting, I’m going to be proposing a blanket grant motion that we have a combination of those organizations that we historically funded, like Rendezvous, like the Pageant, like the Senior Winter Games and a number of things,” said Godfrey. “I think it also serves as a bit of goodwill.”
The board is also working with other counties and government agencies, hoping to secure the Scenic-Byway and All-American Road status for Highway 191, which “would open up all sorts of funding” in the By-Way Grant program, according to Godfrey.
Underlying the entire meeting was the looming June 30 deadline, when funding will cease and the board will have to disband.
“Are we all in agreement that come June 30, with the expiration of our budget, we’re basically, as a functioning constituted board, pretty much done?” asked Godfrey.
Some form of transitional entity was proposed that would work with either a tourism association, which was an idea first discussed after the tax was overturned last fall, or “some kind of governmental agency” or the chamber.
“The three of us could function as a post-tourism board committee and simply get together and make sure that things are being done and finalized,” suggested Godfrey.
The group will meet again in May and June to discuss these issues, as its role begins to wind down.
“Formally, (we’re) dissolving, but all of us are very interested in continuing that work,” said Thompson, “and just trying to remain a positive presence.”
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