City Council votes to reduce WICA funds

Langley is planning to take a different approach to how it uses tourism funds.

The Langley City Council decreased a grant to a prominent nonprofit group in order to invest in infrastructure, but that decision could change in the new year.

Lodging taxes in Langley are set at 4 percent. The tax, also called the hotel-motel tax, is used to support activities, operations and expenditures designed to increase tourism. The tax is a good indicator of how tourism is doing and, in Langley’s case, it was a good year. Collection of the tax increased 38 percent from October 2018 to October 2019.

The city dedicates 1 percent to the Island County Tourism Committee, which markets Whidbey and Camano islands as tourist destinations. In the past, the city has granted the remaining 3 percent to nonprofit groups that promote tourism, such as the Whale Center, the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts and the Island Shakespeare Festival.

During a meeting Dec. 2, the city council discussed setting aside some of the funds for infrastructure spending in 2020, which could include the creation of ADA accessible walkways, public restrooms and other projects related to tourism.

Council members Christy Korrow and Peter Morton advocated allocating $20,000 from miscellaneous tourism funds towards such a reserve fund. In addition, the city council voted unanimously to decrease WICA’s funding by $5,000, bringing it to $20,000. The $5,000 could be placed in the new reserve fund for city tourism projects.

During the following council meeting on Dec. 16, Morton presented a motion for reconsideration of the allocation of WICA funds. He voiced support for restoring the $5,000 to WICA for the group’s contributions to Langley tourism.

In a memo addressed to Morton and by extension, city council, WICA Executive Director Verna Everitt wrote that the theater is planning to air 150 commercials on PBS in August 2020. She reminded the council that DjangoFest NW brings in over $325,000 to Langley each year, among other festivals hosted by WICA.

Councilwoman Dominique Emerson suggested well-established organizations such as WICA are less in need of funding than others that may be newer to the island.

Morton’s motion to reallocate the $5,000 back to WICA failed by a vote of 2-2, with Korrow abstaining from voting due to her holiday leave.

Because the vote dealt with financial matters, Mayor Tim Callison said he was unable to break the tie. As a result, the previous meeting’s motion of decreasing WICA’s funds by $5,000 stood.

However, the question of WICA’s funding may be revisited in 2020, when two new members will be seated on the Langley City Council.

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