County gives $175,000 to LTVA advertising blitz |

County gives $175,000 to LTVA advertising blitz

Lorna McDaniel

A divided Douglas County commission voted Thursday to provide the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority’s promotion campaign with $175,000 and challenged the Tahoe Citizen’s Committee to match funds by $25,000 to fulfill the $200,000 request.

Commissioner Bernie Curtis proposed the amount and the challenge after an emotional debate concerning cuts to the parks and recreation budget to fund the request.

“We have to support our economic engine at Lake Tahoe,” Curtis said.

Miner was quick to second Curtis’s motion after pressing the commission for the full $200,000.

Miner, who has worked with the LTVA board, defended the proposal saying that Douglas County – not just at the Lake but in the Valley – could lose a lot of money as a result of the Highway 50 closure if an advertising campaign was not funded.

He said prospective visitors to the Lake needed a constant flow of information.

“We need to preserve the booked business vital to economic survival,” he said.

Both commissioners Steve Weissinger and Kelly Kite approved funding the LTVA for a lesser amount.

Weissinger said he favored a $120,000 commitment to match the combined contributions by the City of South Lake Tahoe, for $70,000 and $50,000 from private properties at the Lake.

The idea of a challenge came from Weissinger after Ranchos resident Rodney Snead appeared before the commissioners and argued that if the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance is able to fund the TCC with $300,000, then the casinos could afford to fund the LTVA.

Commission Chair Jacques Etchegoyhen’s vote was the deciding factor in favor of funding LTVA.

“In every sense of the word, what has happened is a true emergency,” he said. “We are fighting for our economic life.”

Mike Jabara, chairman for the TCC, laughed at the commission’s challenge in a telephone interview Friday.

“We don’t take the challenge seriously,” he said. “The LTVA is a government-funded organization, funded by both the City of South Lake Tahoe and Douglas County.

“The TCC is a private group, made up of businesses like the chamber of commerce. From our perspective (the challenge), seems spiteful, related to our efforts in the Legislature to create Tahoe County.

“We’re not going to play games with the commission. We’re not gong to write a check for $25,000 under duress of a commission vote.”

He said he was pleased the commission voted to approve funding the LTVA.

“Concerns about keeping the economic engine (of Douglas County) should transcend partisan lines,” he said. “Obviously the commission voted in the spirit of that.”

Jabara added that the TCC had already contributed $1,000 to the LTVA in December and $1,000 to victims of the New Year’s flood.

Ron Spellecy, executive director of the LTVA, appeared before the board and said, “We are in a crisis.”

With early January’s rainfall the American River crested 15 feet over its banks and caused mud slides closing Highway 50 for the last four weeks, he said.

This closure combined with the Highway 395 closure has threatened Douglas County’s tourist-based economy, he said.

Lost revenue was projected at $5.7 million and could cost Douglas in tax base up to $470,000, he added.

To combat the loss of business, projected to be up to 50 percent based on the 1983 closure of Highway 50, the LTVA spent $338,000 on advertising.

With 26 percent of the Lake’s business yet to come this year, Spellecy said, “What we are asking you is for support for the rest of the year.”

The lost tourism revenue has a trickle-down effect causing employee layoffs, estimated at a 3,000-person reduction, he added.

Spellecy said Caltrans projected Highway 50 opening by the end of March but was concerned of additional closures this winter because of weather-related problems.

He said the money requested was needed to market destination targets or long-term visitors.

“Without the money, (it) will not allow us to penetrate this market,” he added.

Elza Turkington appeared before the commission to oppose the LTVA funding.

He said the room tax, installed in 1969, was to designed to fund parks and recreation, senior services, the library and airport.

“The casinos have no claim to that money,” he said. “You say we’ll create at new tax (to pay for leisure services.) Baloney. We have a tax right now.”

Carolyn Rawles-Heiser, director of Douglas County libraries, appeared to show support for the LTVA funding.