A Baker County committee’s recommendation to hire a new contractor to operate the local visitors center could imperil the future of the annual Miners Jubilee celebration in Baker City, according to the current contractor.
The county’s Transient Lodging Tax Committee voted Thursday to recommend county commissioners award a roughly $74,000 annual contract for operating a visitor center to Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort.
The Baker County Chamber of Commerce, which has the current six-year contract, has operated the visitor center on Campbell Street near Interstate 84 for more than 30 years.
Shelly Cutler, the Chamber’s executive director, said this morning that the issue is not limited to who operates the visitors center.
Cutler said that if the three county commissioners, who are scheduled to meet Feb. 19 to consider the lodging tax committee’s recommendation, agree to award the contract to Anthony Lakes, then the Chamber would no longer be able to put on Miners Jubilee and other events, including the downtown Christmas parade.
Although the contract in question is for visitors services, Cutler said the $76,606 annual payment allows the Chamber of Commerce to employ one full-time employee at the visitors center and covers half of Cutler’s full-time position.
If the Chamber loses that contract, it would have to close the visitors center and also reduce her position to half time.
That’s not enough time for the Chamber to continue to oversee Miners Jubilee and other events, Cutler said.
“There’s so many downstream ramifications with this decision,” she said.
Anthony Lakes and the Chamber of Commerce were the two organizations that submitted proposals for the visitor services contract.
The seven-member lodging tax committee recommends how to spend 70% of the lodging taxes guests pay at motels, bed-and-breakfasts and RV parks.
The 7% tax generated about $538,000 during the 2017-18 fiscal year, a majority of which — $350,000 — was collected from guests at lodging businesses in Baker City.
The committee voted 5-1 to recommend commissioners award the six-year visitor services contract to Anthony Lakes, which proposes to operate a visitor center at The Trailhead, the bike and ski shop the company operates at 1828 Main St.
Anthony Lakes is owned by the nonprofit Baker County Development Corporation.
The new contract will start March 1.
Baker City Mayor Loran Joseph, who is the city’s representative on the lodging tax committee, said he made the motion to recommend Anthony Lakes receive the contract because it proposed to operate the visitors center for more hours than under the current contract with the Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber of Commerce’s visitors center is closed on weekends during the winter due to the lack of visitor traffic, Cutler said.
The Anthony Lakes proposal calls for its visitors center "to operate 7 days a week throughout the high seasons and 5 days a week during shoulder seasons." The visitors center at The Trailhead would be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Chamber's visitors center is open during the winter from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Anthony Lakes proposed annual expenses of $70,400.
That equates to a savings of about $37,000 over the six years, compared with the Chamber’s proposal.
Joseph said the lodging tax committee voted 5-1 to recommend commissioners award the contract to Anthony Lakes.
Kathy Reedy cast the lone dissenting vote.
Chelsea Judy, who is marketing director for Anthony Lakes, recused herself due to the conflict of interest.
The other committee members are Lea Gettle, Buell Gonzales Jr., Karen Owen and Tori Thatcher.
Joseph said that in addition to Anthony Lakes offering extended visitor center hours for less money, he was impressed by the company’s plan to survey other visitor centers to help determine the best way to operate.
“Taking that initiative was a big difference between the two proposals for me,” Joseph said. “That’s very important to me when I look at these services that the county contracts for.”
Joseph said that although he understands Cutler’s point about the potential effects on the Chamber should it lose the contract, the tax committee’s sole duty is to award a contract for visitor services, not for community events.
“The money we are giving to the Chamber should only be used to support the visitors center,” Joseph said. “The Chamber does a lot of other great things.”
Cutler said she was surprised that the lodging tax committee recommended Anthony Lakes receive the new contract, in part because during monthly meetings with the committee she's never had any indication that the Chamber wasn't meeting expectations.
"Through our years of service there's never been any concern or issues raised with our performance," Cutler said.
She also said she believes the Chamber's location near the freeway is more advantageous, particularly with travelers who pull off the freeway, compared with The Trailhead's Main Street location.
Joseph said that although the Chamber's office is nearer the freeway, statistics comparing the number of people who actually visit the center with online interest suggest to him that the visitors center location isn't as important as the online presence.
He said the Chamber's center recorded about 3,500 people visiting in 2019, compared with about 900,000 hits to its website.
Cutler said that when she speaks to county commissioners at their Feb. 19 meeting, when they're scheduled to award the visitors center contract, she intends to emphasize that their decision could affect more than just the location of the visitors center and which organization operates it.
Based on the transient lodging tax ordinance, Judy would no longer be able to serve on the committee if Anthony Lakes receives the contract.
The ordinance reads that committee members “shall at no time serve in any official capacity with any contracted firm....”