The ongoing debate over the failure of Spokane Valley to provide lodging tax funding to Valleyfest this year took a twist during Tuesday’s City Council meeting when a councilman revealed that Valleyfest organizers had previously been offered money to not apply for the funding.
The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee is chaired by a council member and includes representatives of the hotels/motels that collect the tax and representatives of organizations that are eligible to receive the tourism funding. The committee is currently chaired by Councilwoman Brenda Grassel.
Councilman Bill Gothmann asked Valleyfest director Peggy Doering if she and Spokane Valley Heritage Museum director Jayne Singleton had been offered $2,000 in the past to not apply for funding. “That is correct,” Doering said.
“Within the past few years did a hotelier committee member offer you a large grant in the present year on the condition that you would not apply for a grant in the following year?” Gothmann said. “That is correct,” Doering said. “I declined all that opportunity.”
In an interview Wednesday Doering said that it was the first year of the lodging tax committee after the city incorporated that Cal Clausen of Sterling Hospitality offered the $2,000 incentive to withdraw her application. Singleton confirmed that the offer was to write them a check on the spot. “We declined his offer and brought it to the attention of the council,” Singleton said.
Doering said it was in 2010 that Clausen asked if Doering would accept funding on the condition that she not apply again in 2011. Doering said she said no but didn’t make a big deal of the request. “I was really relying on the chair of the committee to stand up for the process,” she said. “Maybe I should have been firmer as an applicant.”
Clausen no longer sits on the lodging tax committee. He did not return a message seeking comment.
During the meeting Doering discussed the blank form in her application that some council members indicated was a concern. The page was a form that is required to be submitted to the State Auditor’s office by March 1. Doering said she printed it only because it was immediately before the application’s signature page.
Doering said the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee only asked her about the number of room nights generated by the annual festival. “There were no concerns about the application,” she said.
“I notice that none of the other applicants filled out the form either,” Gothmann said.
Volunteer Pat Leu said the city’s failure to fund Valleyfest was a “slap in the face” to volunteers who work so hard on the event. She also said that her family uses the event as a family reunion, and they stay in Spokane Valley hotels. They are never asked by the hotels if they are in town for Valleyfest, Leu said.
Board member Gail Bongiovanni said that the assertion that Valleyfest doesn’t result in “heads in beds” is false. Visitors to the annual festival came from as near as Colbert and Cheney and as far away as Montana, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon, California, Ohio and Seattle, she said.
Not all of those people stayed in Spokane Valley because hotels have not been offering Valleyfest packages, she said. “Visitors stayed at the cheapest places they could find,” she said. “Valleyfest is no longer a local party.”
Attorney Ryan McNeice is also on the Valleyfest board. State law is clear that the funding can be given to festivals, he said. “The classic ‘heads in beds’ is not a fundamentally mandated piece,” he said.
Resident Tony Lazanis said the council should give Valleyfest the priority. “Valleyfest gives identity to the city,” he said. “I hope you folks do the right thing and fund Valleyfest.”
There seems to be some support for Valleyfest on the council, which voted unanimously Tuesday to re-appoint Doering to another term on the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee. Mayor Tom Towey recommended the re-appointment of Doering and fellow incumbent Doug Kelley of the Spokane Regional Sports Commission. “I think those two people will do us the best job,” Towey said.
“Peggy Doering definitely has done the city a great service,” said Councilman Arne Woodard. “I’m very enthusiastic about her serving.”
Woodard also said he thought it was “likely” that Valleyfest would be approved for lodging tax funding in the second round of applications to be approved by the council in March.