Dunsmuir Chamber feels crunch from recession

Ami Ridling

It seems that just about everybody is feeling the sting from the recession, and the Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce is no exception.

While most chambers customarily receive a percentage of Transient Occupancy Taxes from the city, the Dunsmuir chamber has not seen an appropriation since 2008, said the board’s president Barbara Cross.

Until 2003, the chamber received 20 percent of Dunsmuir’s TOT revenue in quarterly allotments.

In 2003, city staff turned over two Interstate 5 billboards to the chamber in lieu of TOT allocations, explained finance director Brenda Bains. The plan was for the chamber to rent out advertising space on the billboards, which was projected to bring the chamber $20,000 of annual revenue.

In addition to the billboard rental income, the city began to allocate small annual monetary donations to the chamber, Bains said. The city’s last donation to the chamber was in 2008 for $5,000.

“In 2003 the economy was humming,” said Cross, but now, the chamber is hard pressed to rent all the billboard space. This has left the chamber to carry out its duties with a mere $9,000 of annual billboard revenue, its annual membership fees, and funds generated by the Mossbrae Music Festival annual chamber fundraiser.

“We need some financial assistance,” she added.

At the March 18 city council meeting, the councilors approved a series of end-of-the-year unbudgeted requests for General Fund appropriations. While the chamber was approved to receive $1,000 for the upcoming Dogwood Daze event, it did not receive its requested allotment of $12,550.

At the meeting, council member Helen Cartwright pointed out that the appropriations list did not include an allotment for the chamber.

“Every chamber gets money from TOT taxes,” she said. “The chamber is working really hard to attract businesses to Dunsmuir.”

However, despite Cartwright’s comments, the chamber’s requested appropriation went unfulfilled.

David Clarno, the chamber’s vice president and city council representative, later said that he is hopeful that the budget committee will still manage to work out a way for the chamber to receive an appropriation as the close of this fiscal year draws near.

Cross stated that the city’s failure to approve TOT revenue allotments is “very discouraging,” because the chamber has been instrumental in attracting new businesses to Dunsmuir, and it runs the busy visitor center. The chamber also hosts, promotes, and sponsors town events which draw tourists from all over the state.

In fact, the chamber is hosting a whole gamut of new and existing annual events such as the Mossbrae Music Festival, Taste of Dunsmuir, Dogwood Daze of Dunsmuir, Labor Day Yard Sales, the ArtWalk, and the December Chamber & City Celebration.

The chamber also sponsors the River Festival, Railroad Days, PACO, and the Candles in the Canyon and Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Cross noted that community event coordinators often use the chamber’s insurance plan for town celebrations.

In addition, the chamber office and visitor center’s only employee, part-time office manager Denise Bailey, sells tickets for both chamber and independent events; answers phone calls and correspondence about upcoming events; and designs, prints, and distributes promotional flyers about the town’s happenings.

The chamber also finances and maintains a well-designed website, which gets between 5,000 and 10,000 hits every month, and is a powerful marketing tool for Dunsmuir, noted Cross.

Regarding Taste of Dunsmuir, “Half of the tickets that I have sold so far have been to people from out of town, which is our goal,” said Bailey, adding that out-of-town guests are likely to stay in one of Dunsmuir’s hotels — a TOT generator for the city.

“Besides providing information to visitors, we act as the city’s event coordinators and marketing wing. At this time the chamber is the only organization that is actively promoting Dunsmuir to visitors. It is absolutely the responsibility of the city council to participate in the promotion of the town,” said chamber board member Eric Burger.

“We really feel we are doing our part. Our mandate is to bring visitors to town. We are fulfilling that. We do want to work hand in hand with the city. We are dismayed that they don’t seem to want to work hand in hand with us. It is distressing,” said Cross.

Due to the increase in chamber projects and activities, the chamber board has been working to find a way to increase Bailey’s office manager position to full time.

However, “If we don’t get some support from the city, we won’t be able to fund the office manager position,” said Clarno.

If the office manager position is eliminated, that means the visitor center will have to close, said Cross.

While the chamber has a group of volunteers that run the visitor center when Bailey is not there, Clarno noted that volunteers alone could not be expected to run the center.

Furthermore, chamber members do not have the time to carry out visitor center’s duties, as they have their hands full running their businesses, Clarno explained.

Closure of the visitor center would mean that tourists would wander into city hall to ask questions about the city’s attractions, said Cross.

According to the chamber’s documented statistics, over the past five years, the visitor center has gotten between 10 and 442 daily visitor walk-ins.

“We are taking on a lot of projects right now and there is more that we would like to do, but we don’t have the resources to do it all. It would be hard to move forward just on volunteers. We are just treading water,” said Clarno.

Among the new projects, Clarno listed the Downtown Revitalization Committee, a group that is working toward attracting new businesses to open shop in Dunsmuir. In addition, Clarno said he wishes to organize a business mentoring committee to help new business owners in their ventures.

The chamber also has a welcoming committee which greets new business owners and holds ribbon-cutting ceremonies to provide a friendly reception for all new businesses, regardless of whether or not they join the chamber.

“It is the responsibility of our city leaders to support new and existing businesses. By supporting the efforts of the chamber in endeavors to bring people to Dunsmuir, the city council supports the overall economy and the city,” stated chamber board member Ingrid Hall.

Hall, owner of Mountain Maddness and the Acorn Inn, pointed out that the chamber members who own hotels are responsible for making TOT revenue possible, and therefore they should have a say in how TOT revenue is spent.

Burger, owner of Dunsmuir Lodge, agreed. “I definitely think a small percentage of TOT should go back to the chamber. I feel hotel owners should have a say in how the money is spent,” he commented.

Board member and Thriftway Foods owner Nick Mitchell noted that one of the original intentions of TOT was for towns to raise money from tourism, and for a portion of those funds to go back into the community for town promotion, projects, and special community events.

“We are keeping up our end of the bargain. We are doing our part and we want assistance to help us do our part,” Cross said. “We wish our work was valued a little bit more.”