Douglas County OKs money to bring back tourism |

Douglas County OKs money to bring back tourism

Kurt Hildebrand /

Douglas County committed the first expenditure of $476,000 from an $8.9 million federal grant designed to offset the coronavirus outbreak. The money will be used to market the resumption of tourism activities in the county.

Jan Vandermade and Carol Chaplin presented on behalf of the Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe visitors authorities.

However, it’s likely that the money won’t be made available until after September with the second amount.

According to the county, tourism represents 31.4% of the jobs in the county by place of employment.

Room tax revenues were 14% of May 2019’s total.

The visitors authorities are mostly funded by room tax.

“Returning to a robust economy is going to take time,” Vandermade said. “It’s going to be slow.”

The executive directors said it won’t be sufficient to just talk about tourism with the coronavirus.

“The travel confidence is something that has risen to the top,” Chaplin said. “How to travel here safely, what’s open and appropriate behavior while you’re here.”

Vandermade said education before tourists arrive is the goal.

He pointed out that Reno-Tahoe Airport activity is down to a quarter of its usual.

“Most people are going to travel here by road fist,” Vandermade said. “There is no one silver bullet here.”

Debate over the money focused on whether to fund the visitors authority or provide more funding for small businesses.

“I’d like to see where we’re going to get small businesses helped out right now,” Commissioner Dave Nelson said.

The county is working on a $1 million grant program for businesses, which commission chairman Barry Penzel said could be increased without affecting the authorities’ funding.

“We’re trying to get the visitors authorities energized,” Penzel said.

Penzel said discussions at the Carson Water Subconservancy District included establishing landings along the Carson River between Cradlebaugh and Mexican Dam. He said he also wanted to promote improvements for all-terrain vehicle enthusiasts and make sure more promotion was done for Topaz Lake.

County Manager Patrick Cates said the county has half the money from the grant now and the visitors authorities are eligible for the funds, but that they would probably actually receive the money with the second release.

The county has until the end of the month to either allocate or spend the first half of the grant.

According to a budget presented to commissioners on Thursday, $320,000 would go to media buys in surrounding markets while another $40,000 would go to creating an e-brochure.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to commit the funding, with Nelson voting no.

Chief Financial Officer Terry Willoughby said room tax was one of the hardest hit revenue sources from the coronavirus.

June saw $272,231 collected compared to $2.23 million in June 2019. Total collections for the fiscal year were $12.37 million down from $12.8 million in 2018-19.

The county received $1.84 million in consolidated taxes in June, down from $1.9 million the year before. Included in that number are sales tax revenues which were up slightly, due in part of the addition of new online sales tax revenues.

“The primary reason they were up was not just because people were buying online, but also because the numbers were not included last year,” she said. “It looks like we increased, but if you take out those anomalies, it’s not apples to apples.”

Gas taxes were also off due to decreased driving. The fund raised $139,688 in June, down from $838,921 in 2019.

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