Council seeks more accountability on tourism fund

Mt. Crested Butte voices concerns

The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council and Gunnison County commissioners got together last week to shoot the breeze on topics of mutual interest.



Among the topics they discussed were improving the marketing efforts of the Tourism Association and creating new economic development strategies —both topics were placed on the agenda by Mt. Crested Butte.
The two boards of elected officials kicked off their joint meeting on Wednesday, October 15, with a discussion about the performance of the Gunnison Valley Tourism Association (TA). During the discussion, Mt. Crested Butte council member Bill Babbitt said he thought there could be better accountability of the TA’s use of funds—specifically, the funds coming from Mt. Crested Butte.
In 2008 Mt. Crested Butte contributed $250,000 from its admissions tax fund to support the TA. The rest of the TA’s million-dollar budget comes from a 4 percent Local Marketing District Tax on lodging.
Babbitt cited the efforts Crested Butte Mountain Resort takes to show the financial return from the town’s admissions tax marketing contributions. “We got a report on a monthly basis, which measured exactly how those funds were being used,” he said.
Mt. Crested Butte council member Dave Clayton said of CBMR, “They could get very specific on what the return on investment was,” including an estimate of tax revenue produced by the visitors targeted in their marketing program.
County commissioner Hap Channell argued the nature of the TA makes that sort of accountability harder to do, since they aren’t selling hotel rooms or airline seats. “Those numbers are hard to come up with,” he said. “There is a bit of a leap of faith when they’re basically marketing the [whole] county.”
Channell suggested the town work with CBMR’s representative to the TA, communications director Todd Walton, to come up with some ideas on how to improve the TA’s accountability.
Babbitt also asked about getting better representation on the TA’s board of directors for the share of money coming from the north end of the valley. “I’d like to see a better balance on representation from where the money comes from,” he said.
County commissioner Paula Swenson agreed that a significant amount of funding comes from Mt. Crested Butte.
County manager Matthew Birnie advised against changing the structure of the TA’s or the Local Marketing District’s board of directors, since the LMD tax will be up for renewal during the 2009 general election and such changes would have to be included on the ballot.
Channell agreed that they needed to keep the ballot as simple as possible.
Birnie suggested Mt. Crested Butte work it out with the TA in their annual operating agreement. “They can’t operate without the money…  You can craft the agreement to guide what you want to see, or whether you want to get involved with operations,” Birnie said.
Moving on to a different topic, Mt. Crested Butte mayor William Buck asked what the county was doing for economic development.
Channell said he had a discussion with the county finance department about identifying economic development and decided that there isn’t a good definition. Channell said the county contributes to a program at Western State College that helps recruitment efforts, and each student who comes to Western creates a significant financial turnover in the community. “Is that economic development?” he asked philosophically.
“Is economic development attracting new businesses? Is it growing existing businesses?” Channell continued. “I think there’s a definite need for a definition of economic development… and what is government’s proper role?”
Channell said the Montrose Economic Development Committee gets only $3,000 of its $244,000 budget from Montrose County—the rest comes from the city of Montrose and various business interests.
Gunnison also has an Economic Development Committee, but Channell said the group has become dormant and has continued funding. “Some have thought, maybe we should revive this,” he said.
Channell suggested discussing economic development at the next Mayors/Managers Meeting (countywide meetings of top government officials). Buck agreed it was a good idea.

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