5/7/2013 4:20:00 PM Where do you stand on the tourism tax?
By LuAnn Morgan firstname.lastname@example.org
A couple months ago, the City of Othello sent a letter to past recipients of the hotel-motel tax distributions alerting them to the potential end of that funding. As secretary of the Othello Community Museum, I decided to do a little research to find out for sure what's going on. Many years ago, Washington opted to collect a lodging tax from those staying less than one month at hotels, motels and campgrounds. That tax would go toward promoting tourism within the state by granting a portion of the money back to local jurisdictions, which would then dole it out to groups that helped bring in tourism. The original intent was for organizations to use those funds for advertising and related activities to convince tourists to visit the area. Hence, they would spend money in local restaurants, gas stations and stores, as well as hotels, motels and campgrounds, creating even more lodging tax revenue. In 2007, a clause was added allowing cities to expand the potential uses of the funds to include operation of the events and maintenance of facilities, creating the possibility of more tourism. Now, not only could organizations use the money to promote their events, they could use it to pay for the activity itself. It definitely gave tourism a shot in the arm - on a temporary basis. The catch was the supplemental portion of the bill was set to expire June 30, 2013. For organizations that use the money according to the original intent of the bill - promotion and advertising - those funds will continue. But for those planning to use the tax grants to finance their events, they will not be able to receive any funding after June 30. That is unless the state decides to extend that additional clause in the bill. Unfortunately, at this point, it probably won't happen. Since 2007, only about 8 percent of the lodging tax statewide has gone toward those additional purposes. Also, reporting by local jurisdictions has been spotty, at best. In order to determine whether or not the expansion of funding possibilities was working, forms were to be filled out showing how the money was used successfully within local jurisdictions. Not surprisingly, very few managed to fulfill that requirement. In fact, only 42 percent turned in their forms for 2010. So, now, cities are looking at how to possibly continue to fund those activities because it could have a negative impact on some groups. And organizations are beginning to scramble to find money to replace those lodging tax grants before the busy summer season begins. Here in Othello, some of our events may be affected, including 4th of July and American Fiesta Amistad, as well as the annual car show and Babe Ruth tournament. We can only hope state legislators come up with a solution. They have already turned down an extension to December 2014, so it doesn't look good. What can you do to help persuade the state to continue these funds? Write to your senators and representatives and express your opinion. Let them know where you stand on tourism and the importance it has for both large and small communities in our state. It could mean the difference between lots of family activities right here in Othello or a long, hot summer with nothing to do ... unless you choose to travel out of town for recreation.