From 2012 to 2014, I served on the Ridgway Chamber's board of directors. The last year, perhaps because it was my turn, I was elected president. Six of those nine months were the most stressful, sleepless nights of tossing and turning I've had since moving back to my home state in 2010.
The reason? Money. The chamber had none. In fact, the chamber was in arrears. As an organization, we were in the hole for the first nine months, so much so that I tossed and turned most nights wondering if I was going to have to be the one to tell our members that their money was gone.
This was before the the town raised the lodging and occupancy tax, in 2015, which nearly tripled the amount of money flowing into the chamber's coffers.
I don't know how the organization's finances are these days, but those three years were a struggle. The board consisted of seven members and an executive director, and each year a few board members would drop and the recruiting process began again. I know it wasn't just me losing sleep. Most everyone on that board felt stress over the financial strains.
In that last year, the chamber's annual golf tournament pulled us out of the red and into the black.
The next two years, I served on the Ouray Chamber Resort Association board of directors. It was a marked contrast. Gone were the days of brainstorming for the next big fundraiser. Cash ebbed and flowed but was more a matter of how much LOT was paid to the chamber and in what season.
Were there times we had to make decisions to change course financially? Sure. But I never recall it being a matter of survival.
Which brings me to the recent admission by the Ouray Chamber to the Ouray City Council that it needs more money because it is on the precipice of becoming "insolvent."
This has caused a quiet and not-so-quiet murmur around the city. Quiet, in that several business owners said they were going to speak up to council about wanting it to take a critical review of the chamber before awarding it the 2019 LOT, but only one did.
Not-so-quiet, in that ardent supporters of the chamber have been vocal in not only support of the chamber and its employees but in their rejection of the notion that anyone should question the financial stability of the chamber.
The state-wide trend of near 5 percent tourism growth a year since 2008 mirrors what has occurred in Ouray, and these numbers are used along with other measurements to acclaim the success of the organization. In a letter to the editor this week, Jerry Hellman states, "if OCRA fails, the city fails, and we fail."
So who's right? Simply, OCRA is right. They are having financial difficulty. They didn't mince words to this effect in front of council last month, and it was this admission which set the entire discussion off and running.
We laid out the numbers the organization gave us to our readers, and while they are not as bad as what was laid out before council by a business owner, they still show the organization is in the hole.
Whichever way you slice your bread, the fact that it is July 25 and the Jeep Raffle is still not online is symptomatic, or symbolic, of that.
So defend the chamber, its board and the people working hard to keep its effectiveness relevant? Absolutely. I'll be the first to tell you it's not an easy job.
But if there a survival cause-and-effect, as Hellman says, that without the chamber there would be no city, then it is even more incumbent on the city council to take a hard, critical review of the organization.
The council needs to consider itself a culpable arm of the chamber's board, and invest itself in the financial assuredness of the organization. Truly, this was the plea coming from the chamber staff and board last month to the council.
In effect, as the council looks to award another $200,000-plus to the chamber — perhaps more, if a new formula for taxing lodging nights is passed this November — it must be able to assure business owners and property owners, such as Hellman, that the tax money is being invested well and make public the plans to keep the organization viable.
Now that the issue has been laid at the feet of the council, there is very little separation between the chamber board and the five-member city council when it comes to the health of this organization.
If I were the city council and i didn't do my due diligence on behalf of the citizenry, tossing and turning and losing sleep all night would be the least of my worries.
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at email@example.com.