If the Montezuma County Lodgers Tax Committee decides to cut funding from Mancos and Dolores chambers of commerce, the Mancos Visitor Center could face severe operational difficulties – and possible closure.
The lodgers tax raises an average of $150,000 annually, with funds distributed to local chambers of commerce and tourism organizations through a grant-application process. But in May, the committee announced that it is looking to cut the majority of funding that goes to both chambers, possibly redirecting dollars to efforts to build a county convention center.
That decision would have a severe impact, said Maggie Goodell, director of the Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
“If we lose our funding, the chamber’s going to exist,” she said. “But we won’t have funding for the Visitor Center.”
The tax committee is charged with distributing funds from a 1.9% lodgers tax levied on hotel room rates throughout the county. Lodgers tax money is supposed to support local tourism efforts.
This year, the Mancos Valley Chamber received around $29,000. This was about $6,000 less than the previous year, but that was to be expected, Goodell said – overall lodgers tax funds were down.
At a county commissioners meeting in May, though, the lodgers tax committee announced that it was planning to significantly reduce funding from both the Mancos and Dolores chambers, starting in 2020.
“We are currently supporting several of the chambers of commerce, which rely almost exclusively on this money for their operational budget,” said committee member Brian Bartlett at the meeting. He didn’t feel this was the purpose of the lodgers tax funding, and thought the dollars could be used more directly for tourism purposes.
Redirecting funds could raise $50,000 to $70,000 annually, Bartlett said. The money could potentially be used for feasibility studies, grant matches, and financing for a convention center.
The cuts would also affect the Cortez Cultural Center and Galloping Goose Historical Society. Mesa Verde Country would face smaller cuts, according to Bartlett, since the organization’s main mission of marketing tourism is more aligned with the purpose of lodgers tax revenues. And the Cortez Chamber of Commerce would not be affected by the cuts because it has its own lodgers tax.
Goodell says this move is a mistake, and that the Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center play a valuable role in bringing tourists into Montezuma County, and in guiding them to local restaurants, activities, and attractions.
“Durango is a huge tourist destination,” she said. “It has a gigantic tourist base. And people everywhere have heard of it. People stay in Durango, they drive to Mesa Verde. Having a visitor center gives them a place to stop here.”
They also sponsor tourism-based activities and groups like Mancos Days, Mancos Brewfest, and the Mancos Trails Group, she added.
The Visitor Center on Bauer Avenue is filled with historical and cultural tidbits about Mancos, from Creative District artwork to a map pinpointing novel settings of the town’s own Louis L’Amour. Brochures are available at a kiosk near the front door, in addition to being spread throughout town – the chamber operates three kiosks with posters and rack cards.
If funding cuts come through, chamber would still be able to keep the building, Goodell said. But the Visitor Center requires staffing, and it won’t be kept afloat by volunteers alone, she said.
The tax committee had argued that the chamber was more involved with keeping tax dollars in town, as opposed to bringing “heads to beds,” Goodell said. But she pointed to the Mancos Cowboy Half-Marathon as one example of a chamber effort that drew in outsiders.
“Almost half the people coming are from outside of the area,” Goodell said.
Aside from the larger county impact, she said, the Chamber and Visitor Center help Mancos’ economy by bringing in tax dollars.
“We depend on tourism as much as Cortez does,” Goodell said. “And we would like to see our lodgers tax dollars go toward supporting the tourism in Mancos, the tourism in Dolores, as well as the tourism in Montezuma County as a whole.”