Chamber now official tourist agency for Warren Co.

In 2014, the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry will assume the mantle of the official tourism promotion agency of Warren County.

The Warren County Commissioners unanimously granted WCCBI the designation at their Wednesday morning meeting.

“What this resolution represents is a sea change with respect to how we view tourism promotion in Warren County,” Commissioner John Bortz said.

WCCBI events, including the Gran Fondo, the All-American BBQ Festival, and the Regions Pro-Am Archery Tour event – draw people from all over the nation and Canada, he said. “This is just the type of forward thinking we need.”

“What I think we are looking for out of this move is more efficient use of the monies that are coming out of the hotel bed tax,” Commissioner John Eggleston said.

Fiscal Director Toby Rohlin said the hotel bed tax has brought in as much as $150,000 annually, almost all of that going to the TPA. Last year, the revenue was $134,914. In 2011, it was 150,525. The three years prior were $113,156 in 2010, $113,776 in 2009, and $127,922 in 2008. The county takes a portion of the dollars as an administrative fee. Typically that fee is $2,000 to $3,000

“We have been working very diligently on the efficient utilization of those tax dollars,” Bortz said. “I look forward to some very good things coming out of the chamber of commerce.”

The commissioners also approved a memorandum of understanding that lays out the expectations they have for WCCBI as tourism promotion agency (TPA).

“This is not an overnight thought process,” Bortz said. The commissioners have discussed changing the TPA designation for about 18 months. “We have put a lot of time and effort into this.”

“We’re very humbled by the statement of support,” WCCBI President and CEO Jim Decker said. “We’re taking it very seriously.”

“Tourism is a significant portion of the Warren County economy,” he said. The organization is looking for ways to expand tourism in the county. “There are plenty of opportunities to do so.”

“We don’t want to miss a beat with respect to what the visitors bureau has been doing,” Decker said.

The decision leaves the former TPA, the Warren County Visitors Bureau, on the outside.

In fact, according to the chairman of the board, the bureau didn’t even know about the decision until Wednesday.

“We were not informed of this by the Commissioners,” Karen Sobkowski said. “I just found out about it ‘through the grapevine’ from Rob Fulton from the State Tourism Office, after he received an e-mail from Jim Decker letting him know about it an hour after the meeting.”

“We were not informed that this topic was even on any agenda,” she said.

The loss of the tax revenue could mean the end of the visitors bureau.

“Other than membership dues, our entire operating budget is supported by the room tax, and therefore we cannot operate without it,” Sobkowski said. “By law, the room tax revenue must go toward promoting tourism for our county.”

She said the board will meet on Thursday to discuss the change in status.