County discusses upcoming tourism fund plans

SUBLETTE COUNTY – Members of the Sublette County Chamber of Commerce and Sublette County Visitor’s Center joined the county’s board of commissioners inside the Pinedale Library’s Lovatt Room on June 15 to get on the same page going forward in regards to tourism.

County administrator Matt Gaffney brought the item forward to the board, a follow-up from the previous commissioners’ meeting where Gaffney asked the board what its preferred method to distribute tourism funds brought in by the county’s new “bed tax,” a dedicated amount raised through lodging in the county.

Gaffney said all three towns in the county would like representation on whatever entity is tasked with dispersing those funds. At this point, Gaffney said he favored creating an informal committee as a sort of “trial run,” with the board revisiting the matter after nominations have been made.

Chamber representative Roy DeWitt went through the background of the county’s relationship with the chamber – dating back to its initial cut in funding in 2016. Shortly after, a 501c3 was created for the visitor’s center and the budgets were separated. As a result, financial pressures on the chamber from donors have increased, to the point where now the chamber is losing money while also operating the visitor’s center.

Pinedale Mayor Matt Murdock said this tourism fund would give the chamber a prime opportunity to promote tourism throughout the entire county. Commissioner Joel Bousman asked if the visitor’s center’s purpose was to promote tourism throughout the entire county, to which Murdock said, “Absolutely.”

There’s been talk about adding a visitor’s center location in Big Piney at the Green River Valley Museum and, Murdock went on to say, the first impression of the visitor’s center has successfully promoted the county to tourists.

Chamber executive director Darren Hull explained the visitor center’s employment situation – a part-time worker, work campers and four volunteers. He said the chamber has been able to save money in the past year. Hull also said the visitor’s center deals not just with tourism but is “the outward-facing entity for the community.” He said investors come through looking to relocate.

“It’s important to have that first contact be a good one,” Hull said. “And they’ll come in, ask all sorts of questions.”

He also said the county is working to attract a large employer, which would invest a multi-million dollar business to the county.

Murdock said he didn’t expect the lodging tax to fully pay for the visitor’s center immediately, and that the board should expect to pay some of that bill. Gaffney said there are also Enviromedial funds available that don’t have a strict deadline for use.

The commissioners asked deputy county attorney Clayton Melinkovich to draft an agreement while the informal board would put together a mission statement and the board’s intent.

The board all agreed the informal board was the way to go.

Before moving on, commissioner Doug Vickrey brought up a sentiment that’s been felt throughout the county when it comes to Sublette’s identity. The county’s relied on ranching and energy, traditionally. As the county leans further towards tourism to cover losses of revenue from those two sectors, he voiced his concerns about moving too far away from tradition.

“As this county moves forward we’re going to see us losing what this county meant to begin with,” Vickrey said, “and therein lies, where is that median? You want to see progress, but do you want to see too much progress? Because if you see too much progress you only have to look north to see what hurts.” 

Other items

  • Billy Pape with Road & Bridge said the county is working with the U.S. Forest Service to blade the road south of Fremont Lake in order to smoothen it. Eventually, that road will become the county’s priority so it won’t be hindered by red tape to make repairs in the future.
  • Susan Kramer with Happy Endings Animal Rescue asked the board to possibly donate land so the group could house stray dogs. Recently, they’ve discovered stray dogs have been euthanized despite being “easily adoptable.” The board said it would look into the matter.
  • Melinkovich brought forward a handful of items to the board, including granting signature authority to move forward with renovations at the Big Piney Library. The board also voted to send a request to the Wyoming Department of Transportation to lower speed limits from Daniel Junction to Daniel, and then also in Bondurant to the Elkhorn Bar. That vote passed, 3-2, with commissioners Tom Noble and Sam White voting opposed.
  • The board agreed to contract extensions on crisis funding and lab funding, as presented by Public Health Nurse Janna Lee.
  • Commissioners approved Grant Golden’s request to replace a full-time employee. Golden was denied a request to use a county vehicle for transportation based upon precedent, but commissioners said they wanted to revisit that.
  • As the county’s board of equalization, that board will meet Tuesday, Aug. 17, to hear a case of a mineral company claiming the county’s assessor’s office made a mistake when evaluating its assets.