The Baker County Commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday, Oct. 14 to give notice that they intend to award a new contract to the Baker County Chamber of Commerce to operate a visitor center in Baker City.

The Chamber, operating under the Baker County Unlimited corporation, had the previous contract as well. It operates a visitor center at 490 Campbell St., near Interstate 84.

Commissioners had been scheduled to meet Thursday morning to consider two competing proposals, from the Chamber of Commerce and Anthony Lakes Outdoor Recreation Association.

But early Wednesday afternoon, Peter Johnson, Anthony Lakes general manager, emailed a letter to commissioners announcing that the organization was withdrawing its proposal.

Johnson’s letter reads, in part:

“We have been persistent in seeing this process through with the goal of enhancing Baker County Visitor Services to better serve our small communities. Unfortunately, actions and statements over the past few months and specifically this past week by Baker County and its affiliates has moved us to withdraw our proposal for Visitor Services. It has become evident that any contractual or other agreement or relationship with Baker County can only be considered a liability to ALORA and its enterprises.”

In a phone interview with the Herald on Wednesday afternoon, Johnson declined to elaborate on the references in the letter to “actions and statements.”

Commissioner Mark Bennett said “both applications hit it out of the ballpark and they were really good. They addressed a lot of the concerns that we heard in the community and new ideas and I think that the proposal that we have from the Chamber is really forward looking and that’s in a visionary document and that’s what we had hoped to see.”

Commissioner Bruce Nichols, who participated in the meeting by computer, said the county’s Transient Lodging Tax Committee (TLT) did a fine job reviewing the two proposals.

“Both entities that did their proposals did a really good job of putting stuff together. This was a very arduous process for all of us,” Nichols said.

The TLT, which advises commissioners, went through both visitor center proposals on Oct. 7, scoring both based on the criteria included in the county’s Request for Proposals.

The committee gave the Anthony Lakes proposal a score of 98, and the Chamber’s proposal a score of 96.

Harvey said county officials will be in contact with the Chamber of Commerce soon to talk about the new contract, which will continue through Jan. 1, 2024.

“We’ll get to a point where in November, our regular session meeting, at that point in time we’ll approve a contract,” Harvey said.

Bennett thanked all of the people involved in the process, including county counsel Kim Mosier and Heidi Martin, the county’s human resource director.

“I’d like to thank all the parties that participated and really the staff work that went into it,” Bennett said. “I think we need to acknowledge that. And I know it’s been a really trying period of time, and also the work that the TLT did and a lot of other folks, work groups, et cetera.”

County commissioners initially were slated to award a new contract in early 2020. The same two groups — the Chamber and Anthony Lakes — were the only applicants then.

But commissioners didn’t make a decision then and instead extended the contract with the Chamber several times, most recently through Aug. 31, 2021. During that period the county restarted the process and wrote a new Request for Proposals, which was released in early September.

Commissioners voted unanimously to pay the Chamber at the rate in the previous contract — it was about $77,000 per year — starting Oct. 1 and until the new contract takes effect.

Money for the contract comes from the tax that guests pay at motels, bed and breakfasts, vacation rental homes and other lodging businesses.

The Chamber listed in its proposal an annual budget $87,575. Cutler said that includes $7,600 in payroll expenses that in the previous contract the Chamber paid on its own.

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