Room-tax void pondered |

Room-tax void pondered

Jenifer Ragland

A potentially disastrous blow to Lake Tahoe tourism promoters was averted – at least for now – as Douglas County leaders agreed to continue funding two key agencies.

The Board of Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously voted to distribute room tax dollars at their current level to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and the Tahoe-Douglas Chamber of Commerce on a month-to-month basis.

Commissioners said the move will allow the agencies to remain whole while the newly created Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority establishes itself, at which time lake promotional dollars would be shifted to TDVA coffers.

The decision came in a special workshop held to discuss the impact of AB616 – passed in the Nevada Legislature last session as a compromise to the failed “Tahoe County” movement. The law eventually increases the amount of room tax used for promotion from 35 percent to 65 percent, displacing money currently used to fund various county programs.

Despite some concern that the board would pull LTVA and chamber funding altogether as a backlash to the county’s impending loss of room tax revenues, commissioners held to their word.

“It’s probably an easier transition period if the Tahoe chamber and the LTVA start working with the new organization as soon as possible, and I don’t think it’s fair to either organization or the people who work for them to be in limbo for two years not knowing if they’re going to be funded,” said Commissioner Kelly Kite, who made the motion that eventually passed. “The TDVA has not yet had a formal meeting, and until they show the board they are established, I believe the money should remain with the LTVA.”

Skip Sayre, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe marketing director and member of the TDVA board, said the new entity plans to fund the LTVA and the chamber after control of room tax dollars is shifted.

“We will come back very quickly and present to the board how we will operate, what our by-laws are and what we will do with the money,” Sayre said. “We are very pleased with the commissioners’ commitment, and their consistency is appreciated.”

But others, including Commissioner Don Miner, said they were somewhat disappointed in the outcome because it did not guarantee funding for the entire fiscal year.

“It will make it difficult for long-term planning and projects,” said Miner, who is also the chairman of the LTVA board. “The month-to-month funding essentially puts some trepidation in the agency’s budget.”

Tom Davis, South Lake Tahoe mayor and an LTVA board member, agreed, saying funding should be stable for this year so the agency can move forward on its marketing plan, its contract with a reservations system and other issues.

“My only concern is that LTVA needs to be reassured from either entity of long-term funding commitments,” Davis said. “The county and the TDVA are in a cross-over situation right now, and the LTVA is caught in the middle.”

The aftermath of the Tahoe Citizens Committee movement to secede from Douglas County, in which many gaming property managers were involved, appeared to drive the initial uncertainty in committing funds.

Douglas County Manager Dan Holler, in his staff report to the board, pointed out that commissioners didn’t have to give promotion money to the LTVA or any specific agency. They could have changed the way the grants were made by allocating money on a project-by-project basis.

Holler’s report also made the assumption that because all Douglas County room tax money will go to the TDVA in 1999, gaming properties and the TCC were unhappy with LTVA’s performance.

Members of the TDVA board insisted that was untrue, and pledged their support of LTVA and chamber efforts.

County leaders said they still don’t understand why the TDVA was created if it is just going to give money to the same agencies the county was funding.

“The presentation from the TDVA was the same presentation from the LTVA,” Kite said. “I didn’t see any new plan, or new ways to raise revenue. Why wasn’t the LTVA good? Why do we need a new organization? Those questions haven’t been answered.”

Tourism industry leaders believe the change was important to insure vital promotional dollars be controlled by people at Lake Tahoe, especially when there is a chance the lake eventually will have no representation on the Douglas County commission.

In a separate action Wednesday, commissioners essentially took back the extra $200,000 it had promised tourism promoters during the 1997-98 budget hearings – $184,000 to the lake and $16,000 to the valley.

Instead, money will be kept in county coffers for the commissioners to allocate to promotional programs on a case-by-case basis.

“I’d like to see what we’re gonna get for that $200,000,” said board chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen.

“They’re going to have to sell me on the merits of the programs before I give them the money,” agreed Commissioner Steve Weissinger.

At the time it was budgeted, the additional funding was touted by commissioners as proof that they were responsive to the lake’s promotional needs.

After the passage of AB616, the commissioners were not so quick to simply dole out the $200,000 to marketing agencies.

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