In a move that caught some members of The Dalles City Council by surprise, officials voted Monday, May 8, to cut 20 percent from the annual funding request by The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce.
The council’s decision means that the city has agreed to provide the chamber with $195,075 for the upcoming 2017-18 fiscal year, rather than the chamber’s requested $243,844.
However, the chamber will have two weeks to prepare a counterproposal, scheduled to be on the council’s May 22 agenda.
The chamber is in the fourth year of a five-year contract in which the city provides money for tourism services, and approval of the chamber’s 2017-18 “work scope and budget” was a May 8 action item.
Mayor Steve Lawrence said he wanted to give the chamber 80 percent of the funding it had requested, and asked the council to approve his proposal.
After discussion, the council backed the mayor’s plan in a 3-2 vote. Councilors Linda Miller, Taner Elliott, and Russ Brown voted to reduce the chamber’s funding, while Darcy Long-Curtiss and Timothy McGlothlin voted against the mayor’s plan.
Long-Curtiss said she was surprised by the proposal.
“This went through the budget committee and no one had any problem with it,” Long-Curtiss told Lawrence during the Monday meeting. “I’m frustrated that at this late hour you are proposing making cuts. We certainly didn’t talk about this.”
“It was approved by the budget committee, but not by the city council,” Lawrence responded.
The budget committee includes all city councilors.
“A lot of this has to do with shifting a position to The Dalles Main Street, which should have reduced the amount requested by the chamber.”
A new city plan this year calls for the chamber to turn over tourism activities related to the cruise ships to The Dalles Main Street, a nonprofit organization that works to revitalize and historically preserve the city’s downtown area with a goal of making the downtown “a great place to shop, work, and play,” said Lawrence.
The Dalles Main Street is being given $40,000 per year to take over local cruise ship tourism services.
“Main Street will be the single point for all things related to tour boats, and to work with downtown merchants, whether they are in the chamber or not,” Lawrence explained.
“To create more opportunities for passengers and to get better
information to tour boat personnel and passengers. I think the chamber uses its contract with the city to underwrite its operation. We, on the other hand, want to only pay for tourist activities and to make sure we get maximum benefit from taxpayer dollars.”
Talking to the Chronicle Wednesday, Long-Curtiss sharply questioned transferring the cruise ship activities to Main Street.
“I think it is a huge mistake to give the ship management over to Main Street,” Long-Curtiss said.
“The tourism from the ships is not just about downtown. It's about marketing the entire community and even the Gorge itself, so they (tourists) will come back and spend more time in our area.
“The ship visitors are looking for experiences, not shopping — with the exception of food, drinks and souvenirs. It was also a mistake for the city to give them $40,000 and not require a scope of work or budget breakdown equivalent of what they require from the chamber.”
In a written proposal regarding the chamber’s 2017-18 funding, Lawrence explained that he believes the money earmarked for the chamber needs a comprehensive review.
“A re-evaluation of tourist expense and efforts is justified,” he wrote.
“We appear to be continually aiming to increase our tourist exposure, however, it may be we have reached our full capacity for now. A more targeted and focused plan is needed. How can we support the tourist events that exist, the attractions that need improvement and manage our marketing and advertising in a more cost-effective way?”
Because the chamber’s upcoming budget no longer includes money to go toward the cruise ship tourism program, Lawrence questioned why the chamber is asking for essentially the same amount of money as last year.
Lawrence pointed out that the chamber Only reduced its 2017-18 request by $2,686 compared to the previous year.
During the Monday evening meeting, Lisa Farquharson, president of the chamber, defended the chamber’s request.
“Tourism is increasing, and the amount is more so we can be competitive,” Farquharson explained. “Tourism is a top five economic driver, and I envision increasing our marketing so The Dalles can be competitive in the Oregon market. It takes more money for maps and brochures to encourage visitors to return.”
Farquharson said she would meet with the chamber’s board of directors and come back with the requested counterproposal.
In the wake of the council’s vote on Monday, Long-Curtiss questioned the mayor’s objectivity when it comes to chamber funding. “I have heard from several sources that the mayor has been planning to take tourism away from the chamber since before he was elected,” Long-Curtiss said.
“It is not true,” Lawrence responded. “Sometimes when you try to hold people accountable, their response is to make a personal attack. As you can see by our city budget, we have provided more information each year, examined each expenditure more closely and held ourselves to a higher standard of accountability.
“When I took office, the chamber was virtually handed money and they did what they wanted. Examining how tax money is spent is the council’s job.”
Lawrence added that he has noticed that, when the council asks how the chamber is using its money, the council chamber is flooded with people.
“I don’t vote. I simply help present the issues I think are important,” Lawrence said.
Councilor Taner Elliott, who made the motion to reduce chamber funds, agreed that a review of how that money was spent was important.
“I look forward to seeing how the cruise ships feel about Main Street and the program director making them a priority,” Elliott said. “This negotiation is not personal, but some people tend to think otherwise.”