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Lodging Tax Advisory Committee funds distributes funds

After years of sometimes acrimonious debate, the Spokane Valley City Council seemed pleased by the recent funding recommendations made by the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee. The council voted unanimously Tuesday to accept those recommendations for 2014.

Mayor Tom Towey alluded to that struggle as he thanked the committee, which is headed by councilman Ben Wick. “It isn’t an easy task,” Towey said. “I think they did a great job this year.”

The city collects a 2 percent tax on hotel room nights within the city limits. Every year the money must be distributed to organizations that promote tourism in some way. In recent years there has been a recurring debate over whether to give money to Valleyfest, an annual community festival. For the past two years the committee has not recommended funding Valleyfest and the city council voted to award money anyway. But a change in state law means the city council can only accept or reject the committee’s recommendations, not alter who gets money or how much is awarded.

“You can’t come up with any other number and you can’t add other organizations,” said Finance Director Mark Calhoun.

The award amounts are: $247,000 to Visit Spokane; $7,300 to Evergreen Regional Volleyball Association; $28,000 for the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center for fair marketing, $4,000 for conference facility improvements and $7,800 for event marketing; $20,000 to Valleyfest; $183,800 for the Spokane Regional Sports Commission; $13,100 to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum; and $36,000 to the HUB Sports Center.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance that requires towing companies to call the police department to check and see if an abandoned vehicle has been reported stolen before towing it. There have been instances of car owners having to pay towing and storage fees to get back a car that had been stolen and then left on the side of the road or in a parking lot. Requiring the phone call should not create an undue burden on property owners who simply want the car removed, said Deputy City Attorney Erik Lamb. “It’s a matter of minutes,” he said.

The council also voted to approve a new fee schedule for 2014. Most fees will remain unchanged, but new application fees of $420 for a shoreline exemption and $500 to establish lots in a final binding site plan were added to recoup the costs of staff time for processing. The price of a special events permit will rise from $5 to $40, also to recover the cost for staff time. Calhoun said the city’s two new fees are hundreds of dollars less than fees charged for the same thing in Spokane and Spokane County.

Towey said he appreciated being provided the costs charged by other jurisdictions for comparison. “This gives us a clear picture, a snapshot, of where we stand with the jurisdictions around us,” he said.