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County shifts Fox funds, but says original plan was legal

Spokane County commissioners shifted the source of funding for the Fox Theater this week but their attorney insisted the original plan to take some money from the county’s share of the hotel-motel tax was legal.

Deputy Prosecutor Jim Emacio, the county’s chief civil attorney, said the county has provided money from that tax to the Fox or the Spokane Symphony off and on since 1985. The payments have ranged from $10,000 in the early years to a high of $22,000 in 1999.

Some members of the county’s Hotel-Motel Advisory Committee contended giving county money to the Fox was illegal during a meeting with County Board Chairman Todd Mielke on Monday.  “This is not the case,” Emacio said in a memo to commissioners. The legality of the payments had been reviewed.

The comments from committee members came during a meeting to set the 2010 budget for the county’s share of the hotel-motel tax. Commissioners had planned to spend $20,625 from that tax fund to the Fox for four years, and a similar amount from the Historic Preservation Fund. When committee members questioned giving money from the county’s share of the fund to the Fox, which primarily generates business for hotels and motels in the city of Spokane, Mielke said the board could rearrange the payments to take it all from historic preservation.

That’s what the board did on Tuesday, but Emacio told commissioners it wouldn’t be illegal to do it the other way. Determination of what project or entity gets money often depends on who is on the advisory committee, he said. “For example, at one time we had a member of the Symphony on the committee,” he said in the memo.

Did County out-Fox itself on hotel tax?

Spokane County will have to come up with a new plan to give money to the renovated Fox Theater. The old plan, to take about $21,000 a year from the county’s share of the hotel-motel tax, isn’t legal, Board Chairman Todd Mielke was told Monday.
The county’s Hotel Motel Tax Advisory Board balked Monday at the budget for an estimated $405,000 the county expects to collect from the lodging tax. Collections are projected to be down, and the Spokane Convention and Visitor’s Bureau was told it would see its payment cut from $275,000 to $250,000, and the Spokane Regional Sport Commission would be frozen at $75,000.
Even with those reductions, the budget is expected to be almost $33,000 in the red if tax collections are down, as projected.
Representatives of the visitors bureau and the sports commission said they could deal with their allotments, but questioned the county’s plan to send $20,625 of the lodging tax collected in the unincorporated county to the Fox Theater, which is in the City of Spokane.
Dave Pier, a vice president of Brett Sports and member of the advisory board, said the county’s hotel tax money has to be spent on projects or events that generate business in the county lodging facilities.
“I love the Fox Theater,” Pier said. “But it doesn’t meet the fund’s requirements.”