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County disburses tourism funds to Whidbey groups
Agencies promoting tourism in Island County received a boost Monday as the yearly allotment of lodging tax funding was dispersed by the Board of Island County Commissioners.
The total package of tourism funding for 2003, which was approved unanimously by the board, came in at just over $60,000. The largest grants from the fund went to the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce, the greater Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Langley-South Whidbey Chamber of Commerce.
Tourism promotion funding is generated by the county's 2 percent lodging sales tax. Revenues are earmarked for programs and agencies specifically geared toward bringing visitors to the county. Local agencies also receive a 2 percent lodging tax rebate at the state level, bringing the lodging tax revenue in the county to 4 percent. All of the money must be used toward promoting tourism or tourism-related activities.
The Central Whidbey, Oak Harbor and Langley chambers received $15,000 each in tourism funds.
Smaller packages went to such agencies as the Freeland Chamber of Commerce ($8,200), Camano Chamber of Commerce ($5,000), Island County Museum Association ($1,500) and Friends of Admiralty Head Lighthouse ($1,500).
Oak Harbor Chamber President Priscilla Heistad said the 2 percent funding is "absolutely essential" to running tourism-related programs in Island County. Heistad said this newest grant will go toward supporting Oak Harbor's Whidbey on Wheels program, a mobile tourism information booth currently parked at the Deception Pass Bridge parking lot.
Heistad called the movable booth "critical for the whole island."
She said that without the funding, the chamber wouldn't be able to keep the booth going.
"It would cut our advertising budget, also," Heistad said.
Heistad said the 2 percent funding rebated by the county, in addition to the 2 percent tourism tax kicked back at the state level has "created a lot of activity around tourism" in Island County.
Heistad said there has been some confusion about the source of the 2 percent money. The lodging tax is not levied on local residents, unless they choose to spend a night in any hotel, motel or bed and breakfast in the county. The tax applies only to lodging, which is used predominantly by out-of-towners.
The funding is project specific. For example, the Freeland Chamber's package is subdivided into two separate allotments, with $6,000 going to support a visitor center's operating budget and an additional $2,200 going to support Freeland's information booth.
Other agencies receiving 2003 tourism promotion funding include the Skagit/Island County Museum Association ($1,500), Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens ($1,500) and Camano Arts Association ($1,500).