Lodging tax committee asks for money back

Island County awarded grants to 13 nonprofits to promote tourism using lodging tax fund in 2017.

The process for awarding these grants was different this year, and so was what happened after the grants were already awarded. Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, chair of the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee, wrote a letter on behalf of the committee to some of the awardees and asked if they’d be willing to donate some of the funding back.

“This year marked significant improvement in the LTAC scoring process for Island County,” the letter states. “However, as the LTAC committee compiled the scores and ranked the grant awards, they were frustrated with their self-imposed ‘all or nothing’ policy, as so many worthy projects were left with nothing.”

The committee’s new policy meant that applicants would either receive their entire funding request, or nothing at all. Only $266,000 of the total $387,000 requested was able to be awarded, leaving 13 applicants with no funding.

Lynda Eccles, executive director of the Coupeville Chamber of Commerce, was surprised when she received the letter. The Coupeville chamber had received $34,717, which it relies on to operate its visitor center. She regretted that some organizations didn’t get funding, but felt that it was unfair to the awardees to change the process after already awarding the funds. She said the process for awarding grants should be revisited again, perhaps changing the “all or nothing” policy.

However, she and the chamber still agreed to give back $460.

The Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce also agreed to give back some of its original $30,600 grant. Christine Cribb, executive director for the Oak Harbor chamber, said the process for awarding these grant funds has changed every year in the four years she’s been applying, so she wasn’t entirely surprised it changed again this year.

“We are extremely grateful for any funding that we can get from the county,” she said. “We’ll take cuts in other areas to make up for this.”

The Oak Harbor chamber agreed to give back $11,000, although Cribb said it had not yet been decided where the cuts will be made to compensate.

The Ebey’s Landing Trust Board offered up $3,000 of its original $15,000 grant. The county is still waiting to hear back from some of the awardees, according to Price Johnson.

Price Johnson said the committee understands that each organization will have a different capacity to be able to give back some of their grant, and it doesn’t expect all of them to do so. With the redistribution of funds, some of the organizations will still end up with no funding and those that do receive some later will get less than they initially asked for, she said.

The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee met recently to determine how to proceed and will be looking at updating the policy again in March.

“The process is not delivering the results that everybody would like, so let’s take a look at it so that it does,” said Price Johnson.

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