Marathon funding still in question
Organizing a marathon – and keeping it going and growing year after year – is by no means an easy task.
In its fourth year, the Lake Tahoe Marathon is gaining in reputation and size, attracting runners from all over the country, and even the world.
Yet funding remains uncertain and Race Director Les Wright is still struggling to find solid backers and achieve the clout associated with a world-class marathon.
“The goal is to have 10 to 12 people working for the marathon full time, because I’m doing the job of about 30 people right now,” Wright said Thursday from his vacation home in Hawaii. “The other goal of course, is to fill up every motel and hotel around the lake. When that goal is achieved all the other goals will be fulfilled.”
Funding has been one of the most difficult and controversial issues involved in the development and organization of the marathon.
At a South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting two weeks ago, Councilwoman Brooke Laine suggested that the city contribute $15,000 to the marathon.
The motion was denied by a clear majority of the council after heated discussion.
“The city received a request from the Lake Tahoe Marathon asking for $15,000. To the best of my knowledge that letter was never replied to,” Laine said Friday, referring to her request. “So when the carry-over from the prior fiscal year became available, and part of it was allocated to the (Lake Tahoe Visitor’s Authority), I thought this is an opportunity to support the marathon instead of giving such a big chunk directly to LTVA.”
Laine’s request was denied and about $34,000 of last year’s General Fund carry-over was apportioned to the LTVA.
According to Councilman Tom Davis, Laine’s suggestion was in direct contradiction with city policy and would have set a bad a precedent had it been approved.
LTVA is responsible for the marketing aspect of community activities and thus, Davis said, funding requests for events such as the Lake Tahoe Marathon must be submitted directly to them.
“My concern is with the process,” Davis said. “To bring this kind of thing up in the middle of budget review when it’s not even agendized is just not fair to other organizations in the community.”
LTVA has contributed $500 in 1997, $5,000 in 1998 and $500 this year to the marathon, said Guy Joy, LTVA programs manager.
“The LTVA is a kind of clearing house for special events to get funded,” Joy said.
“Otherwise council would have to deal with all those requests themselves.”
Joy said LTVA’s role is to back anything that brings money into the community and supports local business.
But so far, he said, the marathon has not raised the (room tax) for the month of October and contributions are hard to come by.
“A lot of the funding comes from race fees, but so much of it has come out of my own pocket too,” Wright said. “Right now I’m working for nothing. It’s a full-time job and comparable race directors get $50,000. The idea is to eventually make this thing support itself.”
But that might be a lot more complicated than it sounds. Television coverage last year, for example, was paid for by Douglas County and North Tahoe Resort Association contributions – but that was a one time thing.
“We did it as a promotional item. We did it for that one year with the idea of giving them a tool to go out and market themselves,” said Daniel Holler, county manager.
“We really wanted to give this as seed money so they could go out and show potential backers what they could do.”
This year Wright has to come up with funding from different sources for televised coverage. If he chooses to knock on the LTVA door, he will have to follow procedure and open his books for them, something he has not done in the past.
Joy said LTVA has even offered to help Wright gather and organize his records to make a formal request.
“We haven’t ever seen anything in writing, we need documentation,” Joy said. “He’s never been on the meeting agenda, he’s made his requests orally during the public comment time – which is basically not the way to go.”
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