The annual disbursement of lodging tax allocations became a bit bumpy this year, as accusations have been raised that decisions were made outside of a public setting.
On Tuesday night, the Spokane Valley City Council had been prepared to award $322,000 in lodging tax dollars to organizations that encourage tourism and/or generate hotel stays. The funds are collected on a 2-percent tax on hotel stays and then the council-appointed Lodging Tax Advisory Committee makes its recommendation for council approval.
In recent years, some Valley organizations who apply for funding – oftentimes the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum and Valleyfest – have bristled that the bulk of the dollars head west of the city limits to large tourism promoters like the Spokane Sports Commission and Visit Spokane.
While some council members have championed that more of the money stay in the Valley locally, since 2013 – due to a change in the state law -- the council has only had the option of either accepting or rejecting the committee’s choices, not modifying the amounts.
This time around, the committee recommended giving Valleyfest $3,000 and the Heritage Museum $4,400 – far less than their requests ($150,000 and $25,000, respectively. It is also less than the $31,600 Valleyfest was awarded and $9,500 the museum was granted in 2016.
Jayne Singleton, executive director of the museum, said she is concerned that “decisions were made before the committee meeting” on Oct. 19 by members favoring the Spokane agencies – a potential violation of Washington state’s Open Public Meetings Act.
“We just want a fair and equitable process,” Singleton said.
Peggy Doering, Valleyfest director, said it has always been a struggle for her organization – which stages a three-day community event in late summer – to secure outside-agency funding from the city.
“This (money) has not been given to Valley citizens,” she said, while also recommending an ad hoc committee be formed to prioritize potential local tourism attractions. “I think this needs some exposure and daylight and a plan.”
Erik Lamb, deputy city attorney, recommended that the council review the process the lodging tax committee followed and potentially reallocate the proposed funding amounts. That would occur at next Tuesday’s meeting.
The majority of the council agreed, although some council members were leery of opening up the process that could invite future challenges.
“I think we’re opening up the door for anyone to make a complaint,” said Council Member Sam Wood.
The Lodging Tax Advisory Committee has made the following recommendations for 2017:
- Spokane Oktoberfest, $4,200
- Crave Northwest, $2,000
- Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, $4,400
- Spokane County Interstate Fair, $50,000
- Spokane Sports Commission, $136,800
- HUB Sports Center, $48,400
- Valleyfest, $3,000
- Valleyfest Cycle Celebration, $1,400
- Visit Spokane, $71,800