During The Dalles City Council’s May 22 meeting, The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce officially accepted the city’s proposal to provide 80 percent of what the chamber asked for in its budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Lisa Farquharson, president and CEO of the chamber, made it official.
“The chamber submitted a revised budget of $215,140 in response to action at the last council meeting,” Farquharson told the council members. “We accept the revised budget.”
The chamber had originally requested $243,800, meaning it will need to work with $28,704 less than it had hoped for in theupcoming fiscal year.
The city budgeted $246,486 for the chamber in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
The chamber is in the fourth year of a five-year contract in which the city provides money to the chamber for tourism services, and approval of the chamber’s 2017-18 “work scope and budget” was an action item on the city council’s May 8 agenda. At that meeting, the city council members voted 3-2 to provide the chamber with $215,140. 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 plan.
Mayor Steve Lawrence originally suggested providing 75 percent of what the chamber had asked for — $195,075 — but the council boosted that to 80 percent.
Lawrence added that he was not surprised the chamber accepted the 80 percent offer rather than present a counterproposal asking for more funds.
“Absolutely, they should accept it,” Lawrence said. “I thought it was a fair offer, and now we can move forward. I knew when I proposed a lesser amount it would get a hard reaction, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It’s the same scrutiny we put on ourselves in each department.”
Lawrence said he would like to see the $28,704 that is not going to be spent by the chamber set aside for economic development as “opportunity money.”
Farquharson said there were specific cuts the chamber had to make to bring its budget in line with the funding the city was willing to provide. First, the chamber will not be participating in the 2018 Pacific Northwest Sportsmen Show, which takes place in Portland every February.
“This show allowed us to showcase our community and the outdoor activities we have to offer,” Farquharson said.
Also, expenditures for professional development trainings and conferences were cut.
“We will not be attending any trainings for tourism, including the Governor’s Conference on Tourism in 2018,” Farquharson said.
Finally, the chamber is decreasing the property and liability portion on its insurance policy.
Long-Curtiss said she did not agree with reducing the chamber’s budget.
“I’m opposed to the cuts for marketing by the chamber,” Long-Curtiss explained. “They are showing they have achieved, and there is a lot more to achieve. We have less than 80 percent capacity for our hotels. If we can increase these bookings, the transient room tax would create revenue for police and roads and to maintain tourism items too. It’s important to bring in outside dollars. There is no reason to cut the chamber’s budget.”
Farquharson said the chamber’s costs have risen in recent years.
“Let the record reflect that this dollar amount ($215,140) is less than the amount budgeted for the 2013-2014 Community Marketing budget approved by the city, which did not have any wages or full-time employees allocated for cruise ships,” she pointed out. “Please note that since 2013, we have had multiple minimum wage increases, the cost of materials has increased, the cost of services has increased, and the tourism market has become very aggressive both in-state and out of the country.”
Farquharson said the budget cuts will necessitate specific changes in the chamber’s work for the upcoming fiscal year.
“Due to the reduction of staff, visitor center hours of operation will be limited to Monday through Friday only,” she explained. “We can no longer participate in regional travel trade shows, and there will be less advertising and exposure in printed and web publications.”
She added that there will be “fewer partnerships and collaborations with local, regional, and Northwest tourism partners,” and public relations efforts through Weinstein Public Relations will be halved, resulting in reduced outreach and ability to attract tour groups.
Although the chamber will not be able to do as much tourism outreach as it has in previous years, Farquharson said she believed it was important to accept the city’s offer and keep going on efforts to promote tourism.
“We felt it best to meet the city at their request of the reduced budget to continue the momentum that has been put in motion over the past four and a half years,” she said.
After the meeting, Lawrence said he stood by his decision to call for reducing the city’s outlay to the chamber.
“We’re responsible to evaluate programs and contract agreements, and that’s all I was trying to do,” Lawrence said. “We get a proposal and look at it, but we’re not tourism experts. I’d like to have more tourism professionals outside the chamber help us decide what to do with that money — including once it goes into the general fund. I think it’s a proper discussion.”