Quickly turned into bylaw review
The Gunnison County Commissioners held a work session on Tuesday, March 20 to evaluate whether Local Marketing District (LMD) dollars, raised by a 4 percent lodging tax, are being utilized in the most efficient way. Commissioner Paula Swenson asked for the session in light of questions being raised around the valley.
“There are discussions about whether we should temporarily use some of the LMD funds to more aggressively market airline programs,” Swenson said. “There’s discussion on should we have other people contract with the LMD other than the TA [the Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism Association]. There’s been conversation about whether the TA’s current board is the best functioning board. The municipalities might rather be voting members on that board.”
With changes on the horizon for the TA—including staffing changes and a reevaluation of the bylaws—Swenson felt it was a good time for issues to be discussed with the LMD board, which is comprised of the county commissioners. A broad spectrum of people attended the meeting, including representatives from the TA and its board, elected officials from the municipalities and representatives from Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR).
But what started as a discussion about the allocation of funds quickly turned into a discussion about whether bylaws allowed elected officials to be voting members of the TA board.
“In the winter season there are a lot of empty beds. Did the ballot language specify whole county marketing? The money comes from heads being in beds, and I feel that’s where money ought to be spent, to get heads in beds,” said commissioner Phil Chamberland.
TA executive director Jane Chaney, who recently announced her retirement, read the ballot language that was approved by voters in 2009 to reauthorize the LMD. Year-round marketing was not part of that language, but Swenson pointed out that the mission of the TA is to provide marketing on a year-round, county-wide basis.
From there, the conversation quickly shifted to whether elected officials should have voting memberships on the TA board instead of being limited to seats on the TA’s advisory board, which does not vote on TA decisions.
“I’m here to support that, because Mt. Crested Butte has granted money to the TA [in the past], and I think it is appropriate if we sit on that board,” said Mt. Crested Butte Town Council member Dave O’Reilly.
Mt. Crested Butte council member Chris Morgan echoed that sentiment, suggesting that previous financial contributions from Mt. Crested Butte to the LMD funds were ended in part because the Town Council did not have enough say in how that money was used. He said that the town’s admissions tax generates between $350,000 and $450,000 per year, 75 percent of which goes to marketing and once went to the LMD.
“I believe that if my town’s tax dollars are being spent a certain way then the elected officials in our town ought to have representation.” Morgan said.
“The TA board does report to the LMD, the highest elected positions in valley, and councils have a seat on the advisory board…,” said TA chairperson Wanda Berth. “While town officials don’t vote, they can speak at meetings. When it comes to discussion, the advisory board is as welcome and as able to add comments which may affect outcome just as much.”
“To me it seems the issue of members voting and not voting wouldn’t be an issue if the TA wasn’t the sole contractor for LMD dollars,” said Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep.
But the group resisted the idea of splitting up LMD dollars. County manager Matthew Birnie pointed out that voters approved the creation of the LMD with the TA as part of the overall structure. In addition, an intergovernmental agreement between the towns would need to be renegotiated to allocate funds outside of the TA.
“When you’re looking at a pot of money and divide it between five or six people all running in their own direction, it’s not nearly as effective as taking a pool of resources and coming to a consensus about how we are going to brand, how are we going to market,” said Chamberland.
Overall, the commissioners said they were satisfied with how the money was being spent, though Chamberland did say he would like to see more funds spent when airline seats are coming into the valley because local tax dollars are spent on those seats.
Jeff Moffett, director of Crested Butte Vacations at Crested Butte Mountain Resort, added to Chamberland’s point. He said it was unlikely the Gunnison Valley would be able to bring in the same number of seats next year—and over time, fewer seats has meant fewer people.
“There has to be a balance between people getting here and marketing to them… If we’re marketing to people who can’t get here, is that marketing well spent?” He also noted that the demand to visit Crested Butte is higher in summer and winter. “I don’t know if marketing can overcome that.”
Moffet said the TA and its board have worked hard and done a good job, but improvements could be made. At Moffet’s suggestion, however, Commissioner Hap Channell clarified that those things should be looked at through the TA board level, rather than the LMD board.
At the end of the meeting, the commissioners encouraged the TA board to look at revising its bylaws to add elected officials as voting members, something it is already reviewing. A task force hopes to give its recommendation to the TA board in May.
Adding the elected officials as voting members would bring the number of voting members from 11 to as many as 14, if a county commissioner is included. The county commissioners currently act as the advisory board for the LMD, distributing funds for marketing.