A chamber of commerce-sponsored meeting of community leaders Monday selected a committee whose goal is to approach the three municipalities that collect hotel/motel tax money about the possible formation of a tourism advisory board to oversee spending it.
Many in the room clearly would like to see local municipal councils shake loose of nearly a half million dollars not being used to increase tourism, the intent of the law that authorizes the tax.
The meeting was a continuation of an earlier gathering where many of the same people discussed such things as housing needs, ways to recruit people for critical jobs, tourism and how to improve local business opportunities.
Coulee Dam, Grand Coulee and Electric City collect hotel/motel taxes from people staying overnight in motels and campgrounds within their jurisdictions.
Among them, the three towns have amassed in reserve some $450,000 of the money that a state analyst told the group is intended to be spent.
According to city clerks, Coulee Dam has $140,000; Grand Coulee has $90,000 and Electric City has $218,000 in reserve.
The committee will be made up of chamber Manager Peggy Nevsimal, Debbie Bigelow, Kirsten Heidenthel, Kathy Baty, Greg Wilder, Kary Higgins, Pat Welton and Lonna Bussert. Nevsimal will chair the committee and will report back to the overall group by the end of July.
Steve Becker, director of marketing for Coulee Medical Center, acted as facilitator of the meeting and pledged the hospital’s support for the goals of the committee.
In a phone connection with Edward Redmond, a research analyst with the Washington State Senate, the group got answers to some questions about the intention of legislators who this year amended the authorizing law with SB 5262, on which Redmond worked.
The bill amended the state law that authorizes the collection of hotel/motel funds, essentially doing away with a sunset clause that would have disallowed funding the operation of festivals, among other things, and imposing new reporting requirements connected to the money.
“The expectation was that the monies that were allocated would be spent,” Redmond stated.
The group will ask the local towns involved that a tourism board be developed that could annually build a budget for allocating the money, showing how the money will be used, and then submit the plan to the various city councils.
Such a tourism board is required in communities of 5,000 or more, but is not required in small communities. Forming one could require the three city councils to agree to an interlocal agreement that would define and authorize the advisory board.
The three cities, Coulee Dam, Grand Coulee and Electric City, do fund some chamber of commerce requests, and also those of other groups such as the Ridge Riders, with a portion of what they receive each year.
The chamber last year did submit a detailed budget for spending the money on advertising outside the area, but garnered half the funds sought under its plan.