Supes Hike SoHum Chamber’s TOT Share

The Southern Humboldt Chamber of Commerce is one of three tourism-promoting “gateway” organizations that will receive extra funding due to a fourth group’s termination of an agreement with the state.

The effects of the Arcata Chamber of Commerce’s discontinuation of its California Welcome Center status were dealt with at the June 21 Board of Supervisors meeting.

The chamber groups receive funding from Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), which is a fee added to lodging rates. The revenue from TOT collected in the unincorporated area goes to the county, with the Humboldt Convention and Visitors Bureau getting 16 percent of it for tourism marketing.

Forty percent of the bureau’s share funds visitor center services by the gateway groups.

Up until recently, the Arcata Chamber of Commerce operated a California Welcome Center through a franchise agreement with the state. But the chamber has discontinued the agreement due to the challenges of managing a state-designated center.

The Arcata chamber’s TOT funding share of $12,700 in the upcoming year’s budget is based on its past agreement with the state. With the termination of it, supervisors considered re-evaluating the share.

Joellen Clark-Peterson, the Arcata chamber’s executive director, said that her organization is still fulfilling its contract with the bureau despite the termination of the agreement with the state.

“Our gateway does continue to be and never has wavered in our compliance with our agreement with [the bureau],” she continued. “We do expect that in turn, our funding would continue.”

The other gateway communities with chamber-run visitor centers are Southern Humboldt, Orick and Willow Creek.

Laura Lasseter, the executive director of the Southern Humboldt Chamber, described the group’s recent progress. A rebranding effort includes changing the chamber’s name from the former Garberville/Redway Chamber of Commerce, which Lasseter described as a reflection of a new, regional approach.

She said community involvement is increasing, as the chamber has partnered with the Mateel Community Center and is underwriting Redwood Community Radio.

Lasseter added that one aspect — funding — needs further development.

“We would like to be able to keep our doors open,” she said, adding that her participation in the meeting left the chamber office temporarily closed due to lack of staff.

The chamber’s visitor center is now open six days a week and Lasseter said a funding increase would allow the center to be open every day.

Earlier, Steve McHaney, a member of the Arcata chamber’s board, said Arcata is still fulfilling a contractual obligation to promote tourism after its separation from the state.

But Board Chair Mark Lovelace said his recollection of the chamber’s contract is that the TOT share is based on the California Welcome Center franchise.

Asked what additional costs were involved, McHaney said there was a $5,000 annual franchise fee plus the costs of fulfilling requirements such as attending multi-day events and meetings held in Sacramento.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell acknowledged the Arcata center’s value in one of the “biggest metropolitan areas of the county” but she added that “the biggest selling point of Humboldt County is our natural beauty, which happens a lot more outside our metropolitan areas.”

Not wanting to “leave them in the lurch,” Fennell made a motion to reduce Arcata’s share by 50 percent and distribute the rest among the three other gateway groups, giving them an additional $2,116 each.

Fennell’s motion gained unanimous approval.

Supervisors also agreed to use TOT revenue to match the bureau’s funding of a Minimum Revenue Guarantee to attract new airline service to the county. The bureau agreed to fund $250,000 of the revenue guarantee and the county’s TOT contribution of $125,000 will comprise 50 percent of it.