Oak Harbor council bashes Langley

Members of the Oak Harbor City Council took some time out to bash the city of Langley during their meeting last week.

Several council members are upset that Langley is only contributing 1 percent of its lodging tax to a $180,000-a-year campaign to market the island as a tourist destination. Oak Harbor, Island County and Coupeville are all contributing 2 percent.

Also, some council members were concerned that Langley turned down an annexation in defiance of the county’s comprehensive plan. Councilman Richard Davis said he was concerned that the decision would ultimately force more growth into Oak Harbor. He said the city needed to express the concern to the county.

“We are not going to be the dumping point for all the population growth on the island,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, the council decided to respond to Langley’s alleged stinginess by considering taking back 1 percent of the tax to use in Oak Harbor.

The Langley City Council originally held back 1 percent of the tax to build public restrooms, though they indicated that they would eventually contribute the entire 2 percent.

Councilwoman Sheilah Crider, however, said she doesn’t expect to see that flow of money going back to the tourism campaign.

“Langley will not be stepping up to pay the other 1 percent,” she said.

She noted Oak Harbor also needs new or expanded public restrooms at city parks, which could be funded with lodging tax money.

Oak Harbor’s lodging tax is currently at 4 percent, which raises about $150,000 a year. The tax is paid by people who stay at hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts. By state law, the money is supposed to support tourism.

Currently, half of the 4 percent stays in the city and is given out as grants to local organizations that promote tourism. The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, which is made up of volunteers from lodging businesses and groups that promote tourism, makes recommendations about where the money goes, though the council makes the final decision.

The other 2 percent goes to an island-wide marketing campaign to lure tourists to the island during the spring-to-fall off-season. A Seattle marketing firm, Big Bang, was hired to create the “Do Nothing on Whidbey” marketing program.

In an interview Tuesday, Langley City Clerk Debbie Mahler said she was unaware Langley had ever intended to give 2 percent of its lodging tax to the marketing campaign. She said the city was already collecting 3 percent when the decision was made to contribute to the interlocal marketing campaign, and then began collecting the extra 1 percent.

Langley’s lodging tax is also set at 4 percent, which brings in approximately $83,000 a year.

Mahler said $20,756 — 1 percent or one fourth of the lodging tax — is spent every year on the upkeep of Langley’s restrooms behind the Langley South Whidbey Chamber of Commerce. The restroom, which was built in 1997, requires maintenance, utilities, daily cleaning and repairs due to vandalism.

The dollar total of the 1 percent of the lodging tax given to the marketing campaign is still more than the dollar total of the 2 percent contributed by Coupeville.

In addition to the tax issue, the Langley City council’s denial of a proposed annexation for a 40-acre chunk of residential land in September has alarmed the Board of Island County Commissioners, Oak Harbor officials and at least one Oak Harbor resident. The county has an interlocal agreement with Langley that states the city has to annex any proposed development on land bordering Langley.

Resident Richard Pasewark asked the council what effect the breach of the agreement would have on Oak Harbor. Under city and county comprehensive plans, Oak Harbor is supposed to absorb much of the population growth in the county, but not all of it. Pasewark asked if Oak Harbor intends to honor its interlocal agreement with the county.

The council members seemed to share Pasewark’s concerns, but the meeting ended in anger between council members.

Councilman Paul Brewer made a motion to rescind 1 percent of the lodging tax in order to contribute half as much to the island-wide campaign. Councilman Bob Morrison quickly seconded the motion, which means it will be set on a future agenda for discussion and decision.

Reporter Jennifer Conway contributed to this article.

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