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A new game for Truckee area chambers

David Mirhadi
Sun News Service

NEVADA COUNTY “-Nevada County supervisors on Tuesday will unveil a new series of criteria by which local chambers of commerce and other organizations may bid for a share of the county’s tourism promotion budget.

The proposal would effectively replace a system where the county’s chambers of commerce receive a lump sum of money each to spend as they see fit with a model where each organization must request the money on a “contract for service basis.”

Supervisors say the new model will be a better use of the $115,000 currently given annually to the area chambers of commerce by having each organization adhere to a set of criteria, including a caveat that the organizations who receive grants for their marketing proposals do so for projects and events designed to bring out-of-county tourists to the area.

The proposal also includes creation of a countywide visitors conference to increase tourism-related business county-wide, taking over the regional tourism responsibility from the existing chambers of commerce, while creating a Nevada County Chamber of Commerce to represent business members in unincorporated areas of the county.

Supporters of the plan say it creates accountability for chambers of commerce seeking scarce county dollars. Opponents, including the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, worry that their marketing budgets will be slashed and therefore won’t be able to provide services they have for more than 100 years.

“Right now, there’s been very little accountability as to what’s being done for the entire county,” said 4th District supervisor Hank Weston, who represents Penn Valley. Weston said the chambers have lacked an outreach to other areas outside of the county.

Weston, who brought up the issue several months ago, said other groups that could benefit from the county’s tourism cash, such as Nevada County Grown, which promotes local produce, and a wine growers association that hosts an annual wine-tasting tour, have so far been shut out of the money given annually to the chambers. This new process, where each group must present a plan for the money they seek, is more inclusive.

“There’s been no way for these other groups to touch that money,” Weston said.

District 5 Supervisor Ted Owens, who sits on the ad hoc visitors and conference committee, was blunt.

“This funding has become an entitlement to the chambers, like welfare,” he said.

One of the problems, Owens said, is the transient occupancy tax, paid for when hotel guests fill rooms in Nevada County, is going to cities, not the outlying areas — which the supervisors represent.

“I want to know where the money we give these groups is going and how it benefits the taxpayer. In the past, the chambers have been unable to tell us where the money is going and how it’s being spent.”

Owens said a similar system has worked well in Truckee between the town and the local chamber of commerce.

Members of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce and the Grass Valley/Nevada City Chamber of Commerce receive funding from the county. Their directors contend the money received goes to benefit the entire county and promote events for everyone, not just local residents.

Nevada City Chamber of Commerce Executive Manager Cathy Whittlesey worries that the chamber’s marketing budget would be wiped out if they had to apply for money on a contract-for-services basis.

The chamber funds a part-time publicist at $9,000 a year from the county’s coffers. That individual, Dave Carter, also serves the Grass Valley chamber with press materials and he also handles media requests from television, radio and print customers looking to promote the area.

“To cut him off right now, in the summer, I think would be short sighted of the supervisors,” she said. “It’s so important to have a professional do what he does.”

The money used by the chambers isn’t an entitlement, Whittlesey said.

“Our towns are the attraction. They’re getting a service for very little money,” she said.

Whittlesey and Mary Ann Mueller, who runs the Grass Valley/Nevada County Chamber, have said they serve as clearinghouses not only for their local events, but for events throughout the county, and that out-of-town visitors use their facilities often as the first place they visit in Nevada County.

Others say the new model can bring other groups on board to market the area.

John Zurflueh, who runs the Nevada County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the grant system offers better fiscal accountability.

“It many not be the best system in the world, but it could level the playing field.”

The bureau was established last summer and subsists on a $1 per night room surcharge assessed by seven area hotels.

The board is expected to craft a request-for-proposal plan at Tuesday’s meeting.


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