FRONT ROYAL – Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick has confirmed that his proposed budget includes the elimination of town funding for the Visitors Center’s five employees.
The Visitors Center employs one full-time employee, manager Tim Smith, and four part-time employees. If the proposed budget is approved, Tederick said their salaries would cease being funded on July 1. In addition to the center’s staff, four other full-time employees have already been fired due to what Tederick said is a reorganization of departments in attempts to spend money more effectively.
Smith said over the phone Friday that he would rather not comment on Tederick's proposal until a decision is finalized. Smith did say that the center had 28,000 visitors last year, with people coming for a variety of reasons, from wanting a local history lesson to seeking directions to the Shenandoah National Park.
Smith added that whenever people come inside, the staff directs them to local businesses to encourage visitors to stay in town and spend money locally.
Tederick said he has no intention of shutting down the center, saying it is a “nice feature” for the town and “it’s a nice thing to have.”
“I believe it’s necessary...It’s a great building, I love the building…It’s kind of like a destination for some folks,” he said.
Tederick has explained, however, that he does not believe governments are “agile” or "creative" enough to oversee tourism and the town would be better off if it were outsourced to a private entity.
“I think we can get a lot more bang for our buck by privatizing it rather than being salary heavy," he said.
In an impromptu gathering of concerned citizens on Jan. 30, several residents expressed feelings that an outside organization could not provide sufficient tourism services. That concern continued through Monday when citizens packed the Town Council’s meeting room for Tederick’s budget presentation.
Ultimately, the decision is up to the Town Council.
Tederick noted that his proposed budget includes $225,000 for tourism-related professional services. In addition to that, he previously explained that another $107,000 would be dedicated to tourism.
“I don’t know yet what council is going to decide to do specifically. So council may say ‘we want to continue to run the Visitors Center,’ in which case I’ll move enough money from that $225,000 to salaries and keep the Visitors Center under town management,” he said.
Tederick said his overall goal is to enhance tourism and community development, but he does not think it is wise the town to keep funding the Visitors Center employees’ salaries, which “is why I didn’t include it in the budget.”
He noted that whatever organization takes over tourism "may want to run the Visitors Center and may want to make some adjustments themselves as far as the number of people. They may want to have two part-time, they may want to keep all four part-time."
"There’s a lot of options with how this works," Tederick said.