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County to consider aid for CVB

What’s the number?
That was the question posed by the Monongalia County Commission during a recent work session with leadership from the Visit Mountaineer Country Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Like most entities, and particularly those tied to travel and tourism, the CVB has been financially devastated by COVID-19 and currently projects hitting 50% of its anticipated $1.5 million 2020 budget as a best case scenario.
The CVB has laid off all of its employees save Executive Director Susan Riddle, who took a
20% pay cut as the lodging (hotel/motel) taxes that serve as the primary revenue source for CVBs are just now starting to inch back. Even so, there’s typically a two-month lag before the taxes hit the CVB’s coffers.
“We haven’t hit rock bottom yet. The last four months, each month has seen lower and lower and lower lodging tax receipts,” Riddle said.
The lodging tax is up to 6% of the cost of a hotel room, which is divided between the taxing body — counties and municipalities — and their local CVB.
Unfortunately, Riddle said, COVID-19 hit just as governmental bodies were finishing budget season, leaving everyone to simply speculate what the COVID-19 situation, and therefore hotel/motel taxes, will look like going forward.
“The real challenge for us. As much as it’s challenging now, it’s not just now. It’s going to take us at least, unfortunately, another 18-24 months for things to really … It’s just hard to say what the conditions are going to be,” she said.
While Riddle said the bureau has seen a dramatic increase in interest in recent weeks and is planning to bring back some staff, the commission indicated it’s not interested in waiting for lodging taxes to stabilize before fully engaging what it believes to be the state’s premier CVB.
“I’m adamant that I want to get this up and running. If there needs to be some sort of financial area that we’re thinking about. What can we do if we gave you $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 to get these people back, get the programs going,” Commissioner Tom Bloom said.
“It appears that some people want us to wait until the students come back. That’s too late. I want to do it now … I want to get the people back. I’ll tell you right now, and if it can be started next week, July 1, let’s do it.”
While the event was never mentioned by name, it was also noted that the CVB is still recovering financially after bailing out Mountainfest 2019 for more than $200,000. The annual motorcycle rally has since been “paused” indefinitely after 15 years as a summer mainstay.
“This is almost like the perfect storm,” Riddle said, referring to Mountainfest and COVID-19. “The leadership of this organization did the right thing on so many different levels. Timing what it is, this just couldn’t happen at a more poor time.”
Riddle and Visit Mountaineer Country CVB Chairperson Terri Cutright said they would come back to the commission with greater detail on exactly what the nonprofit would need to get back to full strength. Both said they didn’t want to take advantage of the county’s offer of support.
“I don’t think we feel you’re taking advantage. We’re the ones who asked you all to come in here because we consider this to be a very integral and important part of the economy of this county and this area,” Commission President Ed Hawkins said.
Formerly the Greater Morgantown CVB, Visit Mountaineer Country CVB was founded in 1985. It recently added Taylor County and Grafton to its coverage area, which includes Monongalia and Preston counties.
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