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City chips in lodging tax for promotional campaign

"Don't be surprised if you're leafing through a popular travel magazine and come across a big, bright advertisement for Whidbey Island someday soon.The Oak Harbor City Council approved an agreement Tuesday night with Island County, Coupeville and Langley that will allow a board of local volunteers to spend about $180,000 a year to advertise and otherwise promote Whidbey as a tourist destination.Ironically, the money for the advertising campaign that's meant to promote overnight tourist visitors, according to the agreement, comes mainly from tourists. Oak Harbor, Island County and Coupeville raised their lodging tax - which is tacked onto room rates - by 2 percent and earmarked the money for this island-wide marketing effort.Langley is only contributing a 1 percent tax to the marketing effort, since the city was already using the other 1 percent to build restrooms, according to Oak Harbor Mayor Patty Cohen. Once the restrooms are finished, the other 1 percent will also go toward the marketing plan.Under the agreement, a board made up of seven representatives from the lodging industry, seven people from tourism organizations - including chambers of commerce - and four elected officials will administer the marketing program.The agreements says that the joint board will contract out, after seeking and obtaining proposals, professional tourism promotion services. Oak Harbor had put off signing the agreement earlier this year until after a related lawsuit was settled. Joel Douglas, the owner of the Coachman Inn, sued the city after the council increased the 2 percent tax. He claimed the council violated its own policies and procedures in raising the tax.This summer, Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock ruled in the city's favor, which paved the way for the agreement.Oak Harbor's lodging tax is currently at 4 percent. Half of the tax is earmarked for the marketing effort and the other half is supposed to fund city groups and events that are tourist-related. The money is administered by a city lodging tax advisory committee. The committee recommends groups and projects for funding and the city council makes the final decision. "

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