Friday, June 4, 2010

Chamber likely to see budget cuts

Organizationís proposed budget would cut funding 21 percent


By TREVON MILLIARD
Express Staff Writer

Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, is trying to minimize the potential effects of proposed funding cuts. Photo by Mountain Express

Tensions came to a head on Thursday as Carol Waller, executive director of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, stepped before the Sun Valley City Council for the first time since Mayor Wayne Willich proposed cutting the city's funding to the chamber by 80 percent.

Willich announced a proposal on May 26 to give $60,000 to the chamber for the next fiscal year instead of the $321,000 contributed this year, constituting a one-quarter cut in the chamber's total budget.

In response, Waller presented the chamber's proposed budget to the council, asking Sun Valley for $195,000.

Either way, the chamber would be operating on far less.

"This would require a definite restructure," Waller said. "There's no question about it."

She said the chamber cut staff by 17 percent since fiscal 2007, and now has the equivalent of eight full-time employees.

Waller's proposed budget includes asking Ketchum for $220,000—25 percent less than the $290,000 it received this year. The chamber's other funding sources—a grant, business membership fees and events—total $455,000 and would most likely remain constant, meaning that if Waller receives her requests from the cities, the chamber would still be losing 21 percent of its budget.

Waller's proposal accepts that no money would be spent on marketing of Sun Valley to outside areas, a move that falls in line with an economic study that prompted Willich's proposed funding cut.

The study came from the Sun Valley Resort Area Marketing Committee, a group assembled to analyze the resort area's struggling economy and come up with ways to reinvigorate marketing Sun Valley. On May 18, the committee presented its long-awaited proposal, suggesting that the chamber's current $1.2 million budget be split down the middle, with the chamber limiting its focus to visitor satisfaction and no marketing. Instead, the committee suggested that a marketing board be created to advertise Sun Valley to outside areas. The board would receive the other half of the $1.2 million budget. The committee recommended that the board be given $400,000 a year for the next three years on top of the $600,000.

Willich's proposal also includes $400,000 to the marketing board.

But will the council follow Willich's lead?

Councilman Nils Ribi said the chamber could operate on $60,000 from Sun Valley, assuming Ketchum would also contribute $60,000. The chamber would than have about $575,000 with which to work.

However, Waller said, that would limit the chamber's services to answering phones and visitor services. She said the chamber couldn't plan many of the events currently under its leadership.

And, Councilwoman Joan Lamb argued, the events are the only thing Sun Valley has to market and draw visitors here since it doesn't have any four-star hotels or other luxurious amenities. She said the marketing board won't have anything to market if the chamber's events disappear.

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Chamber board President Rob Santa argued that the marketing board could integrate into the chamber and be two groups under one umbrella. He said it's easy to criticize the chamber, but the chamber was underfunded and under-supported.

"The chamber's being beaten up and thrown under the bus these last couple months," he said.

In response, Ribi said the resort area needs to "adapt" to a new economy, which is going to require a "major change."

"We're not looking at the past but looking at the future," he said.

And, he said, the marketing board is part of that necessary major change.

Earlier in the meeting, marketing committee representative Bill White said the marketing board would need a minimum $900,000 from Ketchum and Sun Valley in the next fiscal year to even have a chance at succeeding.

Lamb argued that the board could use the chamber and some of its staff, meaning the marketing board could cut down its costs and create overlap with the chamber, keeping some chamber jobs.

However, Councilmen Ribi and Bob Youngman said the marketing committee has explicitly said that the board must only spend a little more than 10 percent of its funding on overhead, meaning Lamb's suggestion wouldn't make a big difference.

Youngman referred to Telluride, which typically uses 80 percent of its marketing budget on advertising, and is doing a lot better than Sun Valley. He said a few lost jobs at the chamber will pail in comparison to the jobs lost community-wide if action isn't taken now.

"There is no choice," Youngman said.

Committee member Bill White said that if the marketing board were started immediately, meaning in June, area residents would feel a positive effect in business come the 2010-11 winter.

"I stake my reputation on it," said the marketing expert.

Trevon Milliard: tmilliard@mtexpress.com




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