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Town asks county to contribute funds to operate Visitor Center

While the Pagosa Springs Town Council and the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners continue to foster an atmosphere of cooperation, the question of contributing county lodgers’ tax funds to the Town Tourism Committee for the operation of the Visitor Center remains up in the air.

At Tuesday morning’s joint work session, Interim Town Manager Greg Schulte broached the subject once again. He explained that in the past, the county has given its lodgers’ tax to the Pagosa Springs Area Chamber of Commerce to help run the Visitor Center and to bring in special events.

However, the TTC took over the operation of the Visitor Center as of July 1, and Schulte reminded the group that at its last joint work session, he had relayed a suggestion from town council member C. K. Patel concerning the merging of town and county tourism attraction efforts. He suggested the formation of a Visitor Center subcommittee, including representatives from both the town and county, which would oversee the operation.

Commission Chair Clifford Lucero referred to a meeting the two boards participated in over a year ago, when negotiations first began for transitioning the Visitor Center operation from the Chamber to the TTC. He said at that time the commissioners had been promised a copy of the TTC’s formal, written business plan for the operation, and he had complete faith such a document exists, but he still has not received it.

Schulte explained that the TTC has a detailed budget of how it has spent town lodgers’ tax funds so far, and that he is currently working with TTC Director Jennie Green on the budget for 2015. He offered to give all of this documentation to Lucero.

“But I think what we have to work on,” Schulte said, “and what I would hope the subcommittee will work on, is what the plan is going forward.”

Schulte asked what else the county would spend its lodgers’ tax on, and suggested a combined effort would be more efficient. He also promised the county would have representation on the proposed Visitor Center subcommittee.

“We want the county to continue to support the Visitor Center,” Schulte concluded, “which they have done as long as I can remember, and in theory it shouldn’t matter who runs it.”

Commissioners Steve Wadley and Michael Whiting reiterated that the county was told the TTC could run the Visitor Center better and for less money than the Chamber, and they would both like to see the written business plan that outlines how the TTC will do it. Once they receive the plan, they would be perfectly willing to contribute county funds to the Visitor Center.

Lucero added that the county has already contributed money from its budget for 2014 to the Chamber for running the Visitor Center up to the point where the TTC took over, and that it still had $40,000 committed to the town, which he promised will be delivered once the TTC delivers its Visitor Center business plan.

It was council member Kathie Lattin who cut right to the heart of the matter. “I want to remind everybody that it was when we were going through a budget cycle and we started talking to the Chamber about where the they were actually using the money, they couldn’t account for it. They couldn’t tell us where they were spending the money, so for the county now to say they need a plan and they need to know where the money will go, I believe Jennie has that and she has provided that explanation of where the money is going to go.

“Also, I remind you guys that it was the Chamber of Commerce that more than twice in writing said they no longer wanted to run the Visitor Center. They wanted to focus on the Chamber. I can totally support that. They’re here for the businesses, not the tourists.”

Lattin also made reference to the recent turmoil surrounding the Visitor Center. She argued the TTC had a plan in place to run the Visitor Center more efficiently and for less money. The town was set to rent space in the office building owned by the Pierce Mangurian Trust, the former downtown City Market complex, for a very reasonable price.

However, at the last minute, a group of local businessmen consisting of Jeff Greer, Lee Riley and J.R. Ford fought to keep the Visitor Center in its traditional location on the bank of the San Juan River.

As a result of circumstances beyond its control, the TTC was forced to change its business plan and unexpected expenses were added to the Visitor Center operation.

“If I can just interrupt you for a second, Kathie,” Wadley spoke up, “I do appreciate the town’s leadership in buying that building. I want you to know that was very important, and I appreciate the town’s efforts to do that.”

It was at this point the commissioners seemed to relax their stance concerning promises made in the past and to focus more on how to proceed in the future.

“We want to make sure everything is accounted for,” Lucero said. “We have to be accountable to our constituents, just like you guys do, and we’re just trying to make sure everything flows correctly. That’s why we’re asking for the plan, but I see where you’re going now, and we want to work with you guys. I think this committee could do some really good things, so let’s move forward.”

However, since Tuesday’s meeting was only a work session and not a regular meeting for either board, no formal action could be taken.

This story was posted on August 14, 2014.