Spending plans for tourism money raises concerns

Port Orchard City Council members deliberated in a work study session last week about how to divvy up funds from the city's hotel-motel lodging tax.

People who stay in hotels or motels within city limits automatically pay a 2 percent tax, known as the hotel-motel lodging tax.

The city is supposed award the money to groups or agencies that promote tourism in Port Orchard, such as Concerts by the Bay, the Fathoms O' Fun Festival and the Port Orchard Bay Street Association, among others.

The money is supposed to "put beds in heads."

The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee consists of four hoteliers and bed and breakfast establishments, four non-profit groups and one city council member. The recommend, but the city council has ultimate discretion over how to spend the funds generated from the tax.

Among the many recommended allocations for this year from the hotel-motel lodging tax fund is funding for police overtime for festivals in the city.

City Councilwoman Carolyn Powers said at the work study meeting that she couldn't understand why the economic development and tourism committee was suggesting the use of $7,500 for police overtime at festivals out of the hotel motel lodging tax fund in addition to the city council's holdback of $10,000 in hotel-motel lodging tax funds for any specific project until 2013.

"I really have some concern with that," Powers said.

Many groups are seeking the money and working their tails off doing great things for the city. I just can't see why the city is itself taking such a big chunk of the lodging money, she said.

City Councilmen Fred Chang who is the chair of the LTAC committee said that council members who sit on the economic development and tourism committee might be considering the use of the money from the city's hotel-motel lodging tax for police overtime because they either perceive another possible use for the general fund money that could be going to paying officers for the extra hours at the festivals, or they think that there is a hole in the general fund.

"Either they think they don't have the money for police overtime or they think that they want to spend the money for another use," Chang said.

Powers said the question of what is rightly a city expense remains. Money for overtime used to come out of the police budget, she said.

Chang said that he is against spending the hotel-motel lodging tax funds on causes and services that don't directly promote marketing and tourism in the city.

"I think that it should be used primarily for tourism, marketing and bringing in out-of-town visitors," Chang said. "I have concerns about paying police overtime with this money."

Gil Michael, owner of the Cedar Cove Inn agrees with Chang. He said that his position on the use of the hotel-motel lodging tax funds for city-related expenses such as the Foot Ferry, police overtime and city organizations such as the Port Orchard Festival of Chimes and Lights Committee and the Economic Development and Tourism Committee is that the funds should be spent on non-profit organizations.

"Spend the money out of the hotel-motel lodging tax for non-profits," he said. "Spend it on Fathoms O' Fun and Concerts by the Bay. Pay for the city-related things out of the sales tax on motels."

City of Port Orchards lobbyist Briahna Taylor visited the work study session and told city council members that a sunset clause regulating the city's use of the hotel-motel lodging tax funds will stop the city from being able to use the funds for "operations" at events.

City Clerk Brandy Rinearson explained the restriction. It means that during the Port Orchard Festival of Chimes and Lights, the city could no longer use hotel-motel lodging tax funds to set up Port Orchard's Christmas tree, but will still be allowed to print banners and brochures promoting tourism.

City Councilmen Jerry Childs said after the meeting that he doesn't see anything wrong with using hotel-motel lodging tax money to fund police overtime at festivals since it is a part of making tourism of the city a safe experience for visitors.

"We're trying to benefit all of the various organizations but the process is getting a little lost," he said.

Childs also said that the $10,000 of the money that is reserved for use until 2013 is for unforeseen circumstances.  Eleven nonprofits and four city organizations have applied for their portion of the hotel-motel lodging tax funds this year and the total dollar amount is  $77, 000.

Councilwoman Powers estimated at the work study session that the recommended funding of the city-related organizations with the hotel-motel lodging tax money, including Port Orchard Festival of Chimes and Lights, the Economic Development and Tourism Committee, the Foot Ferry and police overtime at festivals amounted to about 20 percent of the $77,000.

Rinearson said that the city council is expected to make a full decision on the allocation of the hotel-motel lodging tax money at a council meeting in the near future.


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