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LTVA back to penny-pinching

by Sally J. Taylor

Sometimes even silver linings have a dark side. Although the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority expects 1998-1999 revenues to be similar to historic levels, the Board of Directors on Thursday made $386,500 in cuts and also stopped negotiations on a $60,000 contract to begin a European marketing program.

During the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, the LTVA purse strings opened wide thanks to several one-time allocations. Now it’s back to penny-pinching.

The board approved unchanged the recommendations of the marketing advisory committee to make $386,500 in cuts by decreasing or eliminating funds to 15 programs. The recommended cuts still fell short of the $400,000 in cuts needed to equal revenue projections.

“We’re still $29,000 over budget,” LTVA Director Terry LeBan told the board. “All revenues have not been guaranteed yet, so this could change,” she said, referring to upcoming discussions by the Tahoe-Douglas Visitors Authority on LTVA funding.

The board also voted to stop contract negotiations with Development Associates, based in England, for a $60,000 program to market Lake Tahoe tourism in the United Kingdom and the Benelux countries.

The proposal by Blaine Henry was approved in March when the board decided to put to use an unrestricted contingency fund of $250,000.

As contract negotiations were delayed to work out details, the situation changed, LeBan explained.

The North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, which had planned to participate in the program opted instead to work with the state tourism boards on international marketing plans. Those options are also available to the LTVA.

The board unanimously decided to stop negotiations. A decision on the reallocation of those funds was deferred to a future meeting when the board could hear proposals.

The board approved the $386,500 in program cuts as recommended by the marketing advisory committee even though most of the discussion centered on not rubber-stamping committee decisions.

“The board should take the responsibility for what gets cut,” said board member John Wagnon, vice president of marketing for Heavenly Ski Resort. By referring budget-cutting decisions to the committee, he said, the board also loses the benefit of presentations.

“We’re changing the way this board approves or doesn’t approve such things as Winter Celebration,” Wagnon said, referring to the Heavenly event that faces a 15 percent funding cut next year even while the resort is negotiating to host a televised World Cup race. “We’ll be making a decision based on even less information.”

Preferring to focus on larger events, the board eliminated $5,000 for the Lake Tahoe Marathon, even though that event is growing rapidly.

The event will not go without the funds, however, according to board President Mike Weber, vice president of Historic Camp Richardson Resort. Camp Richardson plans to pick up that contribution, he said.

Also eliminated was $3,500 for a public relations newsletter and $25,000 in focus group research. Public relations in new markets was cut from $60,000 to $20,000 and the budget to familiarize writers with the area was cut in half to $2,500.

Besides Winter Celebration, the Celebrity Golf Championship and Renaissance Festival also received a 15 percent funding cut.

Although nearly $400,000 in cuts seems drastic, compared to historic funding levels, it does not look as harsh.

The media advertising budget, cut from $1 million in 1997-1998 to $810,296 in 1998-1999, is actually higher than historical levels of $600,000, LeBan said.

Fiscal year 1997-1998 “was a banner year with some funds we’ll never see again,” she said.

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

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