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The tax comes back

"Appearances were apparently deceiving last week when Langley said “no” to new hotel-motel taxes. Since a measure to raise the tax failed on its first reading last Wednesday, Langley’s city council members have been wondering if they made the right decision. In an about-face this week, the council all but officially announced that it will reconsider and probably approve the issue at its meeting next Wednesday.Langley first considered the tax hike three weeks ago when a coalition of lodging business owners, chamber of commerce representatives, and economic development professionals asked the council to raise its lodging sales tax to 4 percent, then turn over half of the money raised to a county-wide tourism promotion effort.Oak Harbor, Coupeville, and Island County were also on schedule to contribute the same percentage of revenue. The council, guided by Neil Colburn’s outspoken objections, balked when it became clear that North and Central Whidbey would receive greater representation on committee formed to disburse this pot of tourism money. Colburn was also opposed to giving up more than 1 percent, as the 3-percent lodging tax currently in place in the city is committed to tourism and arts promotion in the city.However, some eleventh-hour changes in how much money would be collected from Langley and how much of a voice the city would have in its use had Colburn singing a different tune this week. He said if an interlocal agreement between the cities and the county gives the city a stronger voice and reduces its financial commitment, he could support a tax hike.“If those two things are addressed, I can support it,” Colburn said. Mayor Lloyd Furman helped the move toward reconsideration by convincing the cities, the county, and other involved parties to settle for a little less money. Instead of contributing 2-percent to the tourism fund, Furman said the three cities will only be required to put in one percent. The county will still pay 2-percent. In addition, all the cities and the county will have equal representation when it comes to disbursing the approximately $100,000 the tax will collect. With those changes on paper, Furman said he can see the tax being approved on Wednesday.“There is a very good chance that the council will support a reconsideration,” Furman said.Both Furman and Colburn credited the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce’s interim director, Tamara Sipes, with moving the discussion along this week. Colburn called her a “whirlwind” of activity on the issue.Sipes was more modest in summing up her effort. She said nothing would have happened without a “team effort” from elected representatives.“I’ve been the messenger,” Sipes said.Sipes, Colburn, and Furman said they do not expect further opposition to the tax from council members or from innkeepers."

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