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By Ed Fincher
The Pagosa Springs Town Tourism Committee has conducted a flurry of subcommittee meetings recently in preparation for its budgetary presentation to the town council, which must have a final balanced budget for 2013 in place before the end of the year.
Two issues have come to the forefront in this process. The first concerns several conflicts of interest involving various members of the TTC board. The second concerns the appropriate source of funding for the proposed Reservoir Hill development plan.
Conflict of Interest
At the Oct. 17 TTC meeting, Town Manager David Mitchem said, “A recommendation to ensure there’s not an appearance of a conflict of interest; I think applicants that are asking for money for events should not serve on the event committee. I don’t have a problem with them serving on the Town Tourism Committee, but if an applicant is asking for money they shouldn’t be making the decision on the recommendation to the TTC on their own application.”
“That makes sense,” TTC Chairman Bob Hart agreed.
“That would affect Mr. Murri and the Chamber, both,” Mitchem asserted.
TTC board member Morgan Murri, who sits on the subcommittee responsible for deciding which special events receive funding from the TTC, is also the president of the non-profit organization GECKO (Giving Every Child Knowledge of the Outdoors), which has applied for $85,000 worth of funding.
Mary Jo Coulehan and Stacy Boone, who also sit on the events subcommittee, have applied on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce for funding for three of their events: WinterFest, the Car Show at Pagosa and the Renaissance and Pirate Festival. The request for these events totals $5,250.
“I stopped going last year,” Coulehan asserted. “I have not gone for that reason. I was not involved at all last year.”
“Okay,” Mitchem replied. “Do we have board members from the Chamber that are on that committee?” Coulehan admitted Boone was, in fact, on the events subcommittee.
“The only thing I would say,” Murri asserted, “is to be careful that we’re not setting precedent to exclude people in conflicts of interest, or perceived conflicts of interest, in all of the other categories, and I would say that they exist everywhere. I have considered resigning completely from the board just for the protection of the board, because of the funding perspective.”
Reservoir Hill Funding
Mitchem brought Keely Whittington, the town’s new special projects manager, to the Oct. 25 work session of the TTC’s Reservoir Hill finance subcommittee, where Larry Fisher reported on his work with Ed Morlan from the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado, who is helping Fisher draft a request for information (RFI).
“That’s one way to do it,” Mitchem agreed. “The other way is to go after the federal tax credit funds, and that means writing a loan application or a grant application. We ought to go down both paths at the same time and pick whichever one works best and we ought to do it immediately, and get packages submitted by the end of the year.”
Fisher asked if Whittington would be the one to write the grant application, and Mitchem clarified that both he and Whittington would be available to assist the TTC, but would not do the work for them.
When Fisher asked for an explanation of the tax credits, Mitchem said, “There’s two federal programs, one that assists people wanting to move to this country. They make a financial commitment to a local community, and as a result acquire citizenship over time. The other one’s a tax credit program, in which you get a loan, and you get tax credits on the loan, and after seven years, whatever isn’t paid on the loan gets forgiven.”
The difference between the two funding options revolves around the issue of ownership. Should the town seek bids from private companies (through Morlan and Region 9) that will then invest the capital to build their own part of the project, which they will subsequently own and just pay rent to the town, or should the town seek grants to finance the project so that the town retains ownership of (and collects the profits from) each operation while simply hiring companies to operate the amenities?
The former would involve less risk, but more profit, while the later would involve more profit for the town, but also more risk.