“Things have changed since the contracts were originally written”
[ By Kendra Walker ]
With new staff on both sides, the town of Mt. Crested Butte and the Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce are struggling to come to an agreement on a budget and expectations for their annual contract. At their September 7 meeting, the town council decided to subtract $10,000 from this year’s allotted $85,681 to the Chamber, with the expectation that the contract deliverables and budget amount need to be heavily reassessed moving forward. The council then held a work session on September 20 to continue the discussion, and a meeting amongst stakeholders is in the works.
The Chamber was established in 1984 at the same time as the Business and Occupational License Tax (BOLT) funds, which have been used for the Chamber’s budget. “There are no specifics that those [BOLT funds] are Chamber dollars in the original ballot language,” town manager Isa Reeb explained to the council. “The contract with the town has been the same since 2010 with a $22,500 minimum payment plus the remainder of the BOLT funds.”
She stated, “The 2021 contract with the Chamber included things that even the Chamber agreed were an inaccurate representation of what the Chamber does, could or would deliver. The contract has listed the same events since 2010, and since 2014 they have requested Ad Tax funds to supplement all events.”
Reeb explained this was not necessarily the fault of anyone due to COVID and staffing shortages, so she has been working with new Chamber executive director Scott Clarkson to update the contract and has requested a more reasonable cost for their services. “My job is to make sure we’re spending taxpayer money wisely,” she said. “Things have changed since the contracts were originally written.”
Reeb listed out the various contract default items, such as the Chamber being understaffed and not having the capacity to support Mt. Crested Butte per the current contract; not attending council meetings since April; not reporting financials on time; and not informing Reeb of business after-hour meetings or setting up a meet and greet with businesses.
“We have dropped into the visitor’s center several times and it has not been staffed seven days a week from 9-5 p.m.,” Reeb said. “Their reports do not accurately report how many people engage with the attendant, only how many people enter the visitor’s center; they may be visiting the transit center, the restroom, or getting the Wifi password.”
Additionally, she pointed out that Mt. Crested Butte pays the Chamber $85,681, 52 percent of its annual budget, while the Town of Crested Butte pays $54,000, 33 percent.
“Looking at these numbers I was flabbergasted that we had budgeted to pay $31,000 more than the Town of Crested Butte,” said mayor Janet Farmer. “They’re getting a lot more bang for their buck and I do have concerns and problems with that.
“However,” she continued, “you’re in the middle of the budget year and I do have concerns suddenly saying, no we’re not going to fund you what we told you we would fund you for.”
“I’ve been trying to get this done since before Stephanie [Sandstrom, former Chamber executive director] left,” said Reeb. “This has been a process since I got here [in March].”
“There are clearly some things that need to be addressed, perhaps a major overhaul of what our relationship is with the Chamber and what we expect to pay for,” said councilmember Lauren Koelliker. “If we’ve committed to pay a specific amount of money I don’t think we can in good faith take that away. Maintaining a positive relationship is important, but there are some pretty glaring things that Isa has identified that need to be addressed moving forward.”
Councilmember Roman Kolodziej suggested reworking the services or adding services to help justify the cost. “Sometimes things don’t go as planned,” said Kolodziej. “Given other decisions we’ve made in other sectors of our council duties I don’t think it’s going to hurt anything if we follow through with the $85,000 through this year and know it’s going to be different next year. It’s not a perfect solution.”
Reeb said she didn’t see any extra services that would justify the current amount. “I can justify a lower cost. I personally think $85,000 is too high. There’s an imbalance in the contract to begin with outside of the default items. With a typical consultant I trust that they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do.”
“The Chamber is part of our world, it’s not going away, it’s part of our relationship, it’s part of our collaboration, part of what we have to do in this county,” said Farmer.
Clarkson attended the first meeting and said that anything less than the allotted $85,681 would result in an operating deficit for the Chamber this year. He also noted that the Chamber hasn’t had an events manager this summer.
The council determined that they would be comfortable subtracting $10,000 to reflect part of the events manager salary, for a revised budget of $75,681.
“I would like to suggest that we step back from this and get together with a group of stakeholders…” said Clarkson, noting the Chamber board, Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte town councils and the TAPP board, “…and take a look at the vision for the Chamber moving forward. I think the Chamber and our responsibilities dovetail into that conversation.”
More to think about
The council continued the discussion during a work session on September 20, without Clarkson, looking at what services the Chamber provides, which of those the town needs, who should perform those and the financial value of those services.
“We as a town need to tell our consultant what we want,” said Reeb. “There’s this accountability thing that I’m struggling with. If there was a standard, if they were our staff person we would know they’re there. But as this other agency it’s hard to hold them accountable for that.”
Reeb explained that the Town Center Community Association (TCCA) is considering a new events coordinator position, funded by TCCA and hired by the town, to be a point person for events in the base area. “If the Chamber didn’t exist, we would just have the Town Center Community Association do events. If the Chamber didn’t exist, the events wouldn’t necessarily go away.”
“We would be essentially removing that responsibility from the Chamber and it would be happening through the events coordinator?” asked councilmember Dwayne Lehnertz.
“It’s more about having a centralized person to coordinate events,” said Reeb. “Right now, there’s four different people who do all those things and it’s very hard to know who to go to.”
She also noted that the town’s new wayfinding initiative is intended to help alleviate confusion for guests trying to get around the base area, and that there are other ambassador-type people from the RTA, Mountain Express and CBMR already stationed at the base area who can direct people to where they want to go.
“I think there’s a value in having a visitor’s center…I do think having a person to talk to is an important role,” said Koelliker. “I think certainly the staffing issues need to be solved. I don’t think we should have to get involved with monitoring staff. I certainly hope the executive director would be very aware of these issues and they would be solved. That was an uncomfortable conversation to have at a public meeting.”
Koelliker suggested putting certain items into the contract that the Chamber typically applies for through the town’s admissions tax grant, such as the Fourth of July band and Light Up the Night. “We could put it in the contract so they don’t have to pay a staff person to write the grant application.”
“I like the idea of the itemized contract,” said Reeb.
“My concern is that as far as the amount of money that’s being contributed from different entities, we seem to be paying the lion’s share of it,” said Lehnertz. “So, if there’s some way to establish some type of equity in there…it seems reasonable to me that there should be some parity.”
“We need to have some back and forth to come up with an agreement with them,” said councilmember Nicholas Kempin.
Reeb said that a meeting is in the works between the Chamber and the mayors and town managers of both Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte to discuss the issues further.