Council decides to use lodging tax to fix marquee

Taking nearly one-third of the city’s limited lodging advisory funds, also known as hotel/motel tax funds, to secure financing to repair the Bay Street marquee was a contentious issue Monday night at the Port Orchard City Council meeting.

According to Councilwoman Carolyn Powers, the city’s Finance Committee is considering General Obligation (GO) bonds as a possible funding mechanism.

A GO bond is a municipal bond backed by the credit and “taxing power” of a jurisdiction rather than the revenue from a given project. GO bonds are issued in the belief that a municipality will be able to repay its debt through taxation. No assets are used as collateral.

GO bonds give municipalities a tool to raise funds for projects that will not provide direct sources of revenue — for example the marquee. As a result, GO bonds are typically used to fund projects that will serve the entire community.

Powers urged the city to allocate $35,000 each year out of the hotel/motel tax revenue to pay for the future debt these bonds would create.

“I would hope that someone on this council would amend the motion to include the removal of the marquee as an option,” said city resident Fred Olin. “If we can go into debt to repair the marquee, we can go into debt for its removal.”

Olin said the decision to repair the marquee was an insult to the Port Orchard Revitalization Team (PORT), which recommended its removal, but he believes the decision may be reversed in the near future and wants all of the options to be provided for.

“Come the second Tuesday in November (election day), we’ll know which way it’s going to go,” Olin said. “Please allow yourselves the ability to finance all the options.”

However, Councilman Rick Wyatt said he and Port Orchard City Attorney Loren Combs came to the conclusion that hotel/motel tax revenue can’t be used to remove the marquee.

Downtown resident Kathy Michael, whose husband Gil is running against Councilman Bob Geiger in the November election, suggested to the council that the motion be tabled until an upcoming study of the structure is completed.

She said that the hotel/motel tax revenue is designed to “put heads in beds,” in Port Orchard. She said she believes removing the marquee would accomplish just that.

Bay Street business owner David Boothby, who owns four commercial spaces downtown as well as several apartments, agreed.

“Our building has suffered an immeasurable amount of damage,” Boothby said. “I ask that any money that is spent on the marquee be spent removing it.”

“This is planning upside down,” said Councilwoman Rita DiIenno of allocating the money before the total damage to the marquee is known. “I cannot understand setting aside funds that are vital to our city when we don’t even know what we’re looking at.”

DiIenno said she vehemently opposed the motion’s timing and moved that the council table it until after the study, a move that brought applause from the viewing public.

The motion to table was defeated with Powers, Geiger, Wyatt and Clauson voting against Cramer, Rider and DiIenno.

“We’ve got the cart in front of the horse,” said Councilman Todd Cramer. Cramer was echoed by Councilman Ron Rider who questioned the need for the motion’s urgency.

Geiger asked Wyatt to cite a letter he received from the Kitsap County Visitor’s Convention Bureau that allegedly stated the Bureau found the marquee to be a tourist attraction.

Wyatt said the motion to secure funding now, versus later, makes sense.

“This has been done all over the state,” said Wyatt, who chaired the city’s Lodging Tax Committee for five years previous to DiIenno. “It’s a way to utilize monies within the budget to make repairs within the city.”

Wyatt added that people who want to remove the marquee don’t know the damage to the buildings and the sidewalks it might cause, which he said could end up being more expensive than the repairs.

With the discussion coming to a close and a vote imminent, DiIenno consulted with Assistant City Attorney Greg Jacoby, who told her that if she voted against the motion, normal rules applied and she couldn’t recall the vote.

“Once a new council sits (in January), this motion could be brought up as a new motion,” Jacoby said.

DiIenno not to take chances with her ability to recall the decision and voted in favor of the motion even though she was against it.

The council voted 5-2 in favor of the motion, with Cramer and Rider in dissent.

Other council action:

• The council voted unanimously to allow the city staff to prepare a policy to allow citizens to use debit and credit cards to pay the city, using Key Bank to process the payments.

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