Steamboat Chamber could face cuts following City Council’s budget retreat

During Steamboat Springs City Council’s budget retreat on Tuesday, Oct. 4, several adjustments were made to next year’s budget, but none was as large as the adjustment council is considering for the Steamboat Chamber.

The last time City Council discussed the Steamboat Chamber’s annual funding on Sept. 20, the conversation ended in uncertainty. The chamber’s request for $975,000 to fund promotion and destination management drew criticisms from council members, and Tuesday’s budget retreat showed they were serious.

“We have not heard from a lot of the community that may support the marketing of this town,” council member Michael Buccino said. “We’ve heard a lot about it on the other side.”

Buccino said he was comfortable giving the chamber $700,000 — the highest amount supported among the council members.

“Yet, we got some emails from business owners and (Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp.) this week supporting this,” Buccino said. “So it’s not everybody in the community.”

A majority of council members said they supported the destination management aspect of the proposal, which would fund outreach programs to inform tourists about responsible visitorship. However, most council members were sour on the marketing aspect of the chamber’s request. 

Coming into the retreat, the city budgeted $700,000 for the chamber in 2023, which was based on the amount given for 2022. The past year’s city funding was split with 75% going to destination management and 25% for marketing. 

While council members have not yet committed to any specific number — the discussion will continue during the first reading of the 2023 budget ordinance on Oct. 19 — they did speak to how much money they were comfortable giving the chamber.

“We have the majority at ($500,000),” said Robin Crossan, City Council president. 

Council member Gail Garey supported a $700,000 award, but specified that she wanted a 75/25 split in favor of destination management, identical to 2022. Council member Joella West said she supported $650,000. 

Council members Heather Sloop, Robin Crossan, Dakotah McGinlay and Ed Briones were comfortable allotting $500,000 to the chamber, saying they supported funding destination management but didn’t feel comfortable with the promotional aspect of the chamber’s request.

Council members shared some alternative ideas for the chamber, such as when Briones said he would like to see the chamber market toward locals.  

“Since the local economy and the community members are the driving force for sales tax, let’s drive it up with them,” Briones said. “You know, tourism is just a bonus.”

Steamboat almost exclusively relies on sales tax revenue, of which about 35% to 40% comes from tourists depending on the time of year, according to the city. 

City Council also entertained the idea of paying the chamber as services are rendered, similar to the arrangement in Telluride, but Steamboat Chamber CEO Kara Stoller said the chamber in Telluride also has secure funding each year along with other revenue sources.  

Crossan said she would like to see the chamber take more of a human resources role than marketing. 

“It’s not just marketing to get people here to buy things,” Crossan said. “It’s more of going around asking the businesses, ‘How can we train you? How can we help you retain people?’”

Stoller said the chamber’s programming has been focused on employee retention strategies, and the chamber has hosted quarterly employment law updates to clarify and keep employers apprised of evolving employment requirements. 

“Separate of the annual destination management communications and promotion contracted work, the chamber’s scope includes a tremendous amount of business support and resource opportunities,” Stoller wrote in an email to the Steamboat Pilot & Today.  

During the budget retreat, Stoller told council members that if the chamber received less than its requested amount, she and her staff would have to make cuts to their media buys, administration costs, research, creative investments and public relations. Stoller added that PR work would be cut completely from the budget. 

“Council’s discussion on Tuesday encompassed shifting our proposal significantly,” Stoller wrote. “The chamber board will discuss their feedback and next steps over the coming weeks and months.”

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