The Dolores Visitor Center could face closure if it loses the bulk of its regular funding from the Montezuma County Lodgers Tax Committee, reports Dolores Chamber of Commerce manager Susan Lisak.
The tax committee typically grants the Dolores Chamber and Visitors Center $28,000 per year out of a fund derived from a 1.9% lodgers tax levied on hotel room rates in the county.
The Mancos Valley Chamber has been receiving a similar amount each year.
But last month, the lodgers tax committee indicated it no longer wants to be the main funding source for both chambers, and it proposed to significantly reduce funding beginning in 2020. One idea is to build up a reserve from lodgers taxes to help support a proposed convention and events center or other asset to attract visitors.
During a town hall meeting with county commissioners, Lisak defended the use of lodgers tax money to support the Dolores Visitor Center and to put on special events. She said it aligns with state statutes that outline how lodgers taxes must be spent on promoting local tourism. The statues also allows the money to be used for tourist information centers.
Chamber dues from local businesses support the chamber’s local marketing efforts, Lisak said, and the lodgers tax money goes toward special festivals like Escalante Days and for operating and staffing the Dolores Visitor Center at 201 Railroad Ave.
“The Visitor Center assists traveling tourists, sending them to area attractions like Boggy Draw, the river and Mesa Verde. Otherwise, they might just drive through town,” she said. “We take phone calls from around the world from people wanting to visit our area. We are small, but we support our community and need the lodgers tax funding.”
The 1.9% Montezuma County Lodgers tax typically generates between $150,000 and $170,000 per year. The tax is excluded in the city of Cortez, which has its own lodgers tax. According to state statute, county lodgers tax cannot exceed 2%.
A five-member Lodgers Tax Committee appointed by the Board of County Commissioners oversees disbursement to various local tourism agencies who request the funding each year.
There are currently three members on the commission – Brian Bartlett, Lee Cloy and Darlene Denison. There are two open seats.
Every May, the county commission votes to approve the annual disbursement of the tax revenue presented by the tax committee.
The commissioners reminded town officials that there are open seats on the committee and they welcome applicants. Committee members must be in the lodging or tourism business.
Keeping the commissioners informed about Dolores tourism efforts was also suggested, and could influence how the money is distributed.
“We have some say when (the tax committee) presents to us,” said Commissioner Larry Don Suckla. “I want to know what is going on in Dolores and Mancos, and what the money is going to be spent on. I’d love to see a proposal.”
Town officials disagreed with lodgers tax committee opinion that funding the chambers was not the best use of the money.
“Our chamber does a good job, and I’d like an explanation how they think we are misusing the funds,” said Dolores Town Board member Val Truelsen.
The announcement to reduce chamber funding has caused some strife, and the Lodgers Tax Committee canceled a meeting last week with the Dolores Chamber.
In an email to Lisak, Bartlett said lodgers tax money is supposed to be spent “exclusively to bring additional tourism dollars into our county. The money was never meant to be used to run a chamber or to keep the chamber afloat.”
Dolores Chamber member Shawna Valdez disagreed.
“Chambers qualify for the funding because the money is spent on advertising and marketing,” she said.
Bartlett said he is open to setting up another meeting with the chambers in cooperation with other committee members.
“Nothing is set in stone, of course,” he said. “If we were to find a much larger amount in the lodgers tax coffers next year, that miTght help a bit.”
Applicants sought for committeeThe Montezuma County Lodgers Tax Committee is seeking applicants to fill two three-year term vacancies on the committee. Members shall be individuals engaged in tourism by virtue of their profession or business with preference given for members from the lodging industry.
Bylaws of the committee may be obtained from the County Administrator’s Office, Room 260, County Courthouse, 109 W. Main St., Cortez, Colorado or they can be accessed online at By-laws for the Montezuma County Lodgers Tax Committee
Please submit a letter of interest by July 12, 2019, at 4:00 pm to: Montezuma County Administration, 109 W. Main, Room 260, Cortez, CO 81321.
Selection will be made on July 16.