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Official: Defunded Randolph CVB hopes to continue

Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series about the relationships between the Randolph County CVB, the Randolph County Commission and Elkins City Council.

ELKINS — Although both the Randolph County Commission and the city of Elkins have completely defunded the Randolph County Convention & Visitors Bureau, an official says the CVB doors will stay open — at least for now.

“We intend to keep going until money runs out. That’s our game plan,” CVB President Michelle Depp told The Inter-Mountain. “We have enough money at this point, we believe, to get us through the end of this fiscal year — which will be in June.

“Depending on how this all plays out, unless we come up with another funding source, we will move to close the organization. We won’t have a choice with the fact that our funding comes from the hotel/motel tax, and if they’re cutting us off.”

The Randolph County Commission voted in November to completely defund the Randolph County CVB, which is the oldest of the three CVBs in the county, the other two being the Elkins Depot Welcome Center in Elkins and the Beverly Heritage Center.

Prior to the November vote, the Elkins Depot Welcome Center received 70% of the funding the county provides to CVBs from the hotel/motel tax, while the Beverly Heritage Center CVB received 25 percent and the Randolph County CVB received 5%. After the vote, the amount of funding to be received by the Beverly CVB increased to 30%.

In December, Elkins City Council voted 7-2 to defund the Randolph County CVB.

At the start of this fiscal year, the city was giving the Randolph County CVB 10% of the 50% percent of hotel/motel taxes required to go to CVBs. The other 90% was going to the Elkins Depot Welcome Center.

After the December vote, all 100% will go to the Welcome Center.

The defunding was prompted by the CVB’s Board of Directors’ decision last year to sell the building housing the CVB to a local real estate agency.

Randolph County Commissioner Mark Scott said during a December commission meeting that the building “was on the books for a significantly larger amount than it was actually sold for, and we felt that there may be a conflict of interest in the sale of that property. As a result, we decreased their funding.”

The CVB now occupies just a portion of the building located on North Randolph Avenue near the HomeOwnership Center. The house was sold to House Hunters Real Estate.

In separate interviews with The Inter-Mountain, both Depp and Chris Pudder, the owner of House Hunters Real Estate, declined to state how much the building was sold for.

“This is not public knowledge,” Pudder said. “It’s personal property, not real estate.”

“The building is not classified as a modular,” Depp said. “It is not classified as a trailer. It is classified as personal property. It is classified as a finished shed. And so, it’s not traditional real estate. They tried to make it out that it was traditional real estate; it’s not traditional real estate. It’s classified as a finished shed.”

The Inter-Mountain was unable to locate the amount of the sale of the building or a deed for it in the Randolph County Clerk’s Office, even with the assistance of an employee of the office.

A source that asked to remain anonymous indicated that the building had been valued at $65,000, but was sold for less than $25,000.

The land the building is located on belongs to the state Division of Highways. The building has been at that location for about 10 years.

“We don’t own this piece of property,” Depp said. “We never did own this piece of property. We leased it from the West Virginia Division of Highways, and we leased it up until the point when we transacted the building, and then Chris negotiated a long-term lease with them.”

Depp said Pudder’s deal with the CVB will allow the agency to remain in the building indefinitely.

“He gave us lifetime tenancy here,” she said. “We don’t pay any rent. So, that value is $7,000-$8,000 a year in rental that we’re not paying. We’re here as long as we exist and as long as we want to be here. We have a partnership with Chris.

“We also don’t have to pay the maintenence, the utilities or the insurance for this property, so that is a savings that we accrued. What we were trying to do was lessen as much overhead as possible so that we could continue our mission…

“When Commissioner Scott made his statement that we sold it for less than what was on the books, yes, that is true,” Depp said. “I don’t deny that at all, but that was based off of what was on the books, what the accountant put in there valuing it as an actual property when it’s considered personal property. It’s not considered real estate. There’s no deed for the building; there’s a title like you have for a trailer or a boat. It’s not real estate. In turn, for a lesser cash transaction, we are here rent free, expense free.”

Depp said she and other CVB officials are frustrated with the defunding decisions.

“The city and county created the CVB,” she said. “They created the CVB, made it its own organization and we did what we were supposed to do. Now, all of the sudden, they don’t like what we’re doing because we’re not doing it their way.”

The next article in this series will detail the history of conflict between the CVB and county and city officials, how the CVB/House Hunters partnership was created, and why it displeased those officials.

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