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County cash will keep visitors bureau in business for a few more months

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

The Plumas County Visitors Bureau is still alive. Barely.

The Board of Supervisors last week approved a motion that will keep the bureau solvent through the end of the year.

As one of the final details in the fiscal 2011-12 budget process, the board divvied up $78,000 among the visitors bureau, the county’s four chambers of commerce and Plumas Arts.

The $30,000 for the visitors bureau represents a fraction of its past county funding.

The bureau could get more money after the final budget is adopted Sept. 20. But its fate may ultimately rest with voters as the county’s budget continues to shrink.

Supervisor Robert Meacher said he would favor a tax initiative on the ballot next year.

“(With) the quality of life that our citizens want to enjoy … I am confident that they would vote, in a simple majority election, to fund these sorts of programs and institutions,” Meacher said.

“Not from my end of the county,” Eastern Plumas area Supervisor Terry Swofford shouted.

“Well, you know how I feel about that,” Meacher replied, before finishing his thought. “But to not allow (voters) to have the opportunity to say ‘no’ … I mean, I’ve been saying this for five budgets now, that this is coming.

“I’ve had faith in this board, putting something on the ballot to let the people of this county make the determination.”

After the supervisors rejected, by a 3-2 vote, a motion by Swofford to divide the $78,000 evenly among the visitors bureau, Plumas Arts and the four chambers ($13,000 each), the board unanimously approved a motion by Supervisor Sherrie Thrall.

Thrall’s motion gave $30,000 to the visitors bureau and $9,600 to each of the other entities.

“It’s not a lot of money. But I know my chamber would really appreciate some help with the insurance and some of those things,” said Thrall, who represents the Lake Almanor area. “This would be like keeping-the-lights-on money.”

While the chambers and Plumas Arts are partially funded by their members, the visitors bureau has traditionally relied on county funding to pay the bills.

As recently as 2008, the county spent $260,394 on the visitors bureau.

Its contribution dropped to $150,000 last year.

The $30,000 budgeted this year represents just a little more than a 10th of the bureau’s 2008 budget.

County cutbacks forced the visitors bureau to eliminate an employee last year.

Now the bureau and its two-person staff are in jeopardy.

“The bottom line is if we don’t get further funding, we shut down,” Visitors Bureau Director Suzi Brakken said.

Brakken said it costs about $10,000 per month to run the bureau. She said the county money would run out by the end of the year.

Brakken said the visitors bureau’s most important month marketing-wise is February.

Meacher said his vote to approve Thrall’s motion on the $78,000 distribution was made with the understanding that the board would revisit the issue after the budget is adopted.

The money pledged to Plumas Arts and the chambers of commerce (Lake Almanor Area, Eastern Plumas, Quincy and Indian Valley) is about a third of what they received from the county last year.

The 2010-11 budget designated $29,700 for Plumas Arts, and $27,750 for each of the chambers.

Plumas Arts and the chambers have been trying to work together as a coalition for the last year.

Led by Plumas Arts Executive Director Roxanne Valladao, the coalition won five funding grants. The group also combined its marketing efforts.

Valladao said the coalition model “became a framework that could have been expanded.” However, she said the reduced county funding would force the chambers and Plumas Arts to focus on serving their respective memberships.

Valladao said she would step back from leading the coalition.

“With greatly diminished funding from the county, as well as other sources, Plumas Arts will be unable to remain prominently involved in a leadership capacity,” Valladao said. “But this will certainly not be the end of the chambers and arts coalition working together.”

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