Spokane Valley City Council members hinted Monday night that they might be less than charitable next month when it comes time to dole out lodging tax funding.
Up to last year, the council had more flexibility in how it dispersed a 2-percent tax collected on hotel stays in the city. Each year, a council-appointed Lodging Tax Advisory Committee makes recommendations to the council on how to fund organizations that in some way promote tourism. Until 2013, however, the council could alter the suggested amounts.
That changed when the Legislature ruled last year that cities can only accept or reject the committee’s recommendations. In 2013, council members were largely pleased with the amounts, as organizations such as Valleyfest – a city summer festival that has seen more than its share of controversy by past committee members over whether it puts “heads in beds” – received funding.
The committee is made up of one City Council member – Ben Wick – along with representatives of businesses that collect the tax and those authorized for funding by it. During Monday’s special meeting, Wick was questioned why a potential tourism draw – expanded sand volleyball courts at Browns Park – was not recommended for funding.
Wick said the committee was taking a wait-and-see approach to see if five additional city-paid-for courts were successful.
The majority of the council, however, said it appears that the committee is favoring tourism that is directed toward downtown Spokane over the rest of the region, including Spokane Valley.
“We’re misrepresented by downtown entities,” said Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard.
For 2015, the committee has recommended that the following groups receive funding:
- Visit Spokane, $256,000
- CenterPlace, $15,000
- Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, $38,000
- Valleyfest, $20,000
- Valleyfest Bike Celebration, $20,000
- Spokane Sports Commission, $185,000
- Spokane River Forum, $1,000
- Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, $15,000
- HUB Sports Center, $40,000
Some groups, like Visit Spokane, would receive more money in 2015 – it received $247,000 last year -- if the council approves the allocations.
While the council will not have to make a final decision until Dec. 16, members have the option of awarding the allotted dollars to all, some or none of the recommended candidates. The Lodging Tax Committee could also be directed to come back to the council with new numbers.
“We can moan and groan all we want,” said Council Member Chuck Hafner. “We’re caught between a rock and a hard spot.”
Woodard complimented Wick for his efforts on the committee but added that the group is being “shortsighted.”
“I hate to penalize some of these organizations, but I’d like to see it redone and start over,” Woodard said.