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Council divided on use of lodging tax

Funds are used to promote tourism

Some Spokane Valley City Council members were displeased by the allocations of the city’s lodging tax money recommended by the Lodging Tax Committee. The committee includes two representatives of area hotels, which collect the tax, and two representatives from organizations eligible to receive the tax money to promote tourism. The committee is chaired by Councilwoman Brenda Grassel.

The committee recommended allocating $42,600 to the Valley HUB, $185,000 to the Spokane Regional Sports Commission and $3,900 to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. It is estimated the city will collect $430,000 in lodging tax money in 2012.

Valleyfest, which attracts thousands for the three-day September event, received $36,000 last year.

Councilman Bill Gothmann questioned why Valleyfest was left out after it applied for funding. The annual community festival has always received lodging tax funding in the past and state law specifically states that festivals and special events are eligible for funding, he said. “I am really very upset that the committee would not fund a festival for our city but would fund an event center outside our city,” he said. The Valley HUB is in Liberty Lake.

Grassel argued that Valleyfest is mostly a local event and doesn’t draw many visitors from out of town. Valleyfest organizers stated on their application that they wanted funding for out-of-area advertising for the event. The committee didn’t feel that was a good use of the lodging tax money, Grassel said.

Gothmann said that when he attended the Valleyfest breakfast this year, he saw a man he knew who lives in Colville. The man had come to Spokane Valley with five other family members to attend Valleyfest. “He is by definition a tourist,” he said. “I think the idea that it brings in tourists is correct. I think, frankly, the committee has gotten off on the wrong track. This is about all tourists, not just heads in beds.”

Typically the city sets aside money every year for CenterPlace before distributions are made to other organizations. The 2012 budget includes $30,000 for this purpose but some committee members thought that city representatives should be required to apply for the money and make a presentation like everyone else, Grassel said.

Gothmann disagreed with that stance as well. “CenterPlace belongs to the city,” he said. “I am not pleased with what the committee did.”

Mayor Tom Towey said he didn’t understand why Valleyfest wasn’t given any money since three of the five committee members indicated they wanted to give the group at least some of what it asked for. As for CenterPlace, this year only $30,000 has been set aside in comparison to the $90,000 in previous years. “It would seem to me that it would be reasonable,” he said. CenterPlace has never had to apply for money before and shouldn’t have to now, he said.

According to the minutes of the Lodging Tax Committee meeting, there was also a discussion about having a second round of money distribution in early 2012 to allow organizations that didn’t apply in time a second chance. A representative of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau was in attendance at the meeting even though the organization did not apply for funding. He indicated his organization would like to ask for $250,000 in funding, according to the minutes. There was also a discussion of giving funding to the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, which also did not submit an application.

There was general support by the City Council for holding a second funding round. Towey said the city needs to determine exactly how much money is left for distribution. “These moneys were not meant for a carryover,” he said. The council also agreed to review the applications for funding before the council votes on the committee’s distribution recommendations at the Nov. 15 council meeting.

In other business, the council had a discussion on zoning for manufactured home parks. At several recent meetings residents of manufactured home parks in Spokane Valley have asked the city to pass a law restricting zoning for existing parks so the homeowners are protected. Park residents own their homes but rent the land they sit on, leaving them vulnerable if the landowner decides to use the land for another purpose or sell it.

Deputy City Attorney Kelly Konkright said the cities of Tumwater and Lynnwood have passed ordinances restricting the allowed uses of land that is occupied by a manufactured home park. The city of Tumwater has been sued over its law.

There has only been one manufactured home park closure in Spokane County since 2007, Konkright said, and that was in Cheney. “There aren’t any planned closures in Spokane Valley.” By state law park owners are required to give tenants one year advance notice if the park will close, and there are other protections in place, he said.

Councilman Dean Grafos said he did not like the Tumwater ordinance. “I do think it’s a taking,” he said. “I was in the mobile home business for a number of years.” Grafos suggested that perhaps the city could look at increasing the required notice period to three years or do something else that will protect tenants “without stepping on the property rights of the owner.”

The city can’t interfere in contracts between landowners and tenants, said City Attorney Cary Driskell. He recommended taking more time to explore the legal options and track the Tumwater case before moving forward. “This came up on us pretty quickly,” he said. “There are a number of legal issues I’m concerned about.”

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