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Speakers voice their support for Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce

Renewal of a contract that’s turned into an unlikely political squabble will be settled the day after the November general election.

Citizens lined up to voice support of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce during a regular council meeting Tuesday night.

The chamber director gave a PowerPoint presentation about all the work done by the organization to promote tourism. Council members spoke glowingly about the chamber.

All this focus on the nonprofit group came about after Councilman Rick Almberg asked his colleagues to consider the city’s contract with the chamber earlier than usual.

Almberg explained he wanted the chamber to have certainty with its budget so it can focus on an effort to encourage new Navy personnel to live in Oak Harbor.

Mayor Scott Dudley, however, interpreted it as a political move. He suggested that the council members wanted to settle the contract early in case the composition of the council changes as a result of the upcoming election.

The city has long contracted with the chamber for the operation of the visitors’ center in State Highway 20 and the “welcome wagon” at Deception Pass.

This year, the city awarded the chamber $72,000 in 2 percent lodging tax revenues, money that can only be used to boost tourism; the tax money pays for less than half of the actual expenses.

In her presentation, Chamber Executive Director Kathy Reed highlighted the diverse range of the group’s business-boosting efforts, from helping visitors, to advertising the city in Canada and other places, to putting on the city’s two major events each year.

And much more.

Reed said the $72,000 in lodging tax money from the city leverages additional funds and volunteer hours from the chamber.

“The total return on investment is $250,000,” she said. “That’s not a bad investment.”

Reed also announced that the chamber plans to start a new fall event next year. The “Oaktober Feast” will feature beer and sausages.

All of the council members said they support continuing the contract with the chamber, but the question was how much and how long.

Councilwoman Beth Munns and Councilman Bon Severns suggested a two-year budget be adopted to coincide with the city’s biennial budget.

Following the comment period, Almberg made a motion that delays the council’s decision.

The motion called for council to make its decision during the Nov. 6 meeting. As part of the motion, Almberg said the council may or may not increase the funding or extend the contract beyond one year.

The rationale, he said, is that he wants to see the city’s third quarter financial report before making any decisions.

The motion passed unanimously.

After the meeting, Dudley told the Whidbey News-Times that he questions whether the visitors’ center brings tourists to town; he said the purpose of the lodging tax is to fill more rooms at local hotels and motels.

Dudley said he wants to hear from people who run hotels and motels.

“I will defer to those from the industry,” he said. “I will listen to them.”

 

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