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Financial future uncertain for Tahoe-Douglas Chamber

by Sally J. Taylor

The Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors on Tuesday discussed the possibility of future belt-tightening even as they passed the 1998-99 budget.

With $124,00 from the Douglas County this year that may not be coming in the future, the chamber will enter limping into the new fiscal year in July. The rain-out of the chamber golf tournament last fall and construction at Round Hill Square last summer, which cut into traffic at the Visitors Center, resulted in a tight budget for the coming year.

“There’s no room whatsoever to miss a beat,” said chamber Executive Director Kathleen Farrell.

In 1998-1999, the chamber expects a little more than $454,000 in revenue and the same in expenses. The Visitors Center budget is $138,226 in revenue and expenses. The biggest change is $14,000 for health insurance for the eight-member chamber staff, the first time that benefit has been provided.

Coming in the 1999-2000 budget, the chamber could be missing more than just a beat.

Currently, Douglas County provides the chamber and visitors center combined, $124,000 from transient occupancy funds.

Next year, Nevada Assembly Bill 616 kicks in. The bill mandates the gradual transfer of 65 percent of transient occupancy taxes from county services to tourism promotions. The Tahoe-Douglas Visitors Authority will have the final say on how promotional funds are spent.

However, the county Board of Commissioners will continue to have discretion over the portion of TOT now used for the chambers. But even if the proposed quarter cent sales tax increase passes in the fall election, the commissioners will face tough budget cuts. Add the bitter feelings expressed by many valley residents over AB616, and the idea that the commissioners may opt to leave chamber funding in the hands of the visitors authority is a real possibility.

“When AB616 was discussed (in the legislature), I knew the organization most vulnerable was us,” Farrell said on Wednesday.

Whether the TDVA would pick up that funding or not is also uncertain. The authority board of directors want to focus spending on promotions

Chamber President Skip Sayre, the director of marketing for Harrah’s Lake Tahoe and a board member of the TDVA, continued that vein of thought.

Because the authority has not yet established a funding policy, he said on Tuesday, asking for money for the chamber could be a “tough one.” Chamber funding from the TDVA gets even more complicated when considering the people who could make that decision.

Of the five-member TDVA board, three also serve on the chamber board. Besides Sayre, they are Sandy Hoy, director of marketing for Horizon Casino Resort and Steve Weissinger, assistant manager of Raleys at Stateline and also a Douglas County Commissioner, (who is a non-voting member of the chamber).

“Would they all have to disqualify themselves?” Farrell wondered.

Sayre was not available on Wednesday to clarify either that question or his earlier statement.

With the possibility of loss of funding still on the horizon, Farrell is looking for options and expecting to find them.

Currently, besides the Douglas County funding, revenue for the Visitors Center comes mostly from advertising in the center plus retail sales.

A large chunk of the chamber’s general budget comes from the volunteer management contract for the Isuzu Celebrity Golf Championship, membership dues and various fund-raisers and services.

Some board members have suggested dedicating a portion of revenue earned during special events by their own businesses. Additional management contracts similar to the Celebrity Golf contract are a possible revenue source, Farrell said.

“I do not want to raise dues. Times are too tough for everybody,” she said.

“I believe and still believe that the people in the community and the board believe in the work of the Visitors Center and would not let us go down.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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