Standards keep tourism grants fair
As Chair of the Lodging Tax Committee, I’d like to give additional information to the two recent newspaper articles.
First let’s talk about where the money comes from. The Lodging Tax money comes from a 2 percent tax collected on overnight stays at the city’s hotels and motels. The expectation is that the money will be used to promote tourism that brings revenue back to the city. The process to disperse these funds has been done on an annual basis with an application deadline in September and presentations to the Advisory Council in October.
The application asks questions such as the project summary, scope of work, community economic impact and performance of past funds received. The applications are first reviewed by the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee and an interview of each applicant is conducted. The state requires the Advisory Committee be made up of two recipients of the funds, two hoteliers that collect the funds and one council member. Committee members apply for their position, serve voluntarily and are appointed by the mayor.
The committee has made an effort to be fair to all applicants by requiring the same information. A key question is how do you plan on spending the money, and what economic impact will this provide to the city? The HUB, for example, showed they had over 2,000 hotel stays from events for the first nine months of 2011 that translated into $2.5 million in economic impact in Spokane Valley. They host year-round sporting competitions and showed the committee the schedule of booked events for 2011. They exceeded their goal for growth and continue to improve their facilities. The HUB, while not in our city limits, is a regional sports center, and the closest restaurants, hotels and shopping are primarily in Spokane Valley. That’s a very good return on investment for our city.
Valleyfest is a great three-day event for our community but most likely would not be able to show the same economic impact as the HUB. This does not mean they shouldn’t apply for funds, as it is a tourist event which fits state guidelines. However, they requested the same amount of funding as the HUB.
The application did not include final tallies on overnight stays or tourists to the area. It was stated this was because the application deadline was before the end of the festival. No Gonzaga University exit survey had been presented. The committee had to weigh if it was fair to give equal funding to one applicant that had submitted information in full with one that had not.
Recognizing the deadline was an issue for Valleyfest and other nonprofits, we put forward an option of a second round of funds while approving the first round of applicants. The application deadline for the second round is Jan. 6, and funds will be dispersed in March. Going forward the committee wishes to permanently have two rounds of funds to accommodate the various timelines of the applicants.
Valleyfest has received approximately $19,000 for 2012 through our Outside Agency Grant. I fully expect they will take advantage of this second round of funding and be able to provide the additional information requested. The bottom line is that we need to keep this process fair and hold all applicants accountable for the funds received. If we don’t do this, then we soon lose our integrity.
Reach Spokane Valley Councilwoman Brenda Grassel by email at bgrassel@ spokanevalley.org.