Tourism money remains unspent

"More than $82,000 in special sales tax collections destined for tourism promotion in Island County could still be months away from being used to boost business at county inns and retail stores.The money has been collected during the past 18 months from a 2-percent lodging sales tax charged on all overnight accommodations in the county. It is to be used to publish promotional materials, purchase advertising, and fund other activities that bring visitors to Whidbey and Camano islands.This tax was added to an existing 2-percent lodging tax that has been used for years to fund small tourism promotion projects.The $82,914 collected since early 2000 remains unused because Island County has yet to appoint representatives to the committee that will decide how the money is to be used.Loretta Martin, director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce and a South Whidbey representative on the still-unformed committee, said South Whidbey business people are tired of waiting. Retail sales are down in the city and county wide, so now would be a good time to give tourism promotion a shot in the arm.The want us to meet and get going, she said, speaking for business owners.Island County Commissioner Bill Thorn, who is in charge of naming the county's representatives to the committee, said two weeks ago that the body could meet soon.We've got people identified, he said. It's imminent.In all, 18 people will decided how the money is to be spent. Island County, Coupeville, Langley, and Oak Harbor signed an interlocal agreement that requires them to decide on those expenditures together. Each city and each region of the county has representation on the committee. Representing Langley is Joanne Lechner, co-owner of the Eagle's Nest bed and breakfast. Other South Whidbey representatives are Loretta Martin, Kevin Engstrom, and Lorinda Kay.The county's economic picture indicates that sooner would be better than later for the committee's first meeting. County-wide sale tax receipts are down about $60,000 compared to the same period last year, which means retail sales are generally down as well.Because the committee has not yet met, there is no specific plan for using the tax receipts. During public meetings in 1999, suggested uses included publishing newspaper and magazine advertisements promoting Island County as a vacation spot, buying radio ads, and publishing brochures and booklets promoting tourism. "

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