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Island County's lodging tax bucks may be redirected

Again this year, the majority of the funds collected through Island County’s lodging tax were disbursed to the six chambers of commerce in the county.

But that distribution could change in the future.

Island County Commissioner Angie Homola said at a meeting Monday morning that she would like to see more of the funds distributed away from the chambers of commerce and towards smaller organizations. She pointed out that the Island County Historical Society’s Museum in Coupeville is struggling financially, but hosts 6,500 visitors a year.

“If there’s some way we can put a little more emphasis on these other organizations, it would really help,” she said.

The other two commissioners agreed that it would make sense to revisit the issue. Commissioner John Dean suggested the county should give greater support to smaller groups in tough economic times.

The lodging tax, also known as the “Island County basic 2 percent hotel-motel tax,” comes from a tax on motel stays. The county distributes the money to groups that promote tourism.

The county also has a separate lodging tax that goes to a county-wide tourism promotion effort overseen by the Island County Tourism Committee. Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley have lodging taxes that are distributed within the city and towns.

Last year, the county’s Lodging Tax Advisory Committee made a recommendation to the commissioners about how to hand out the $110,000. The commissioners unanimously approved the recommendations Monday.

A total of $96,800 went to the Oak Harbor, Central Whidbey, Camano, Langley and Freeland chambers of commerce. The Oak Harbor and Central Whidbey chambers received the most, with $21,296 each.

Homola said there’s a perception that the advisory committee is made up of chamber members who are just voting to give themselves money.

Besides the chambers, nine other groups, mostly located on Central Whidbey, received small grants. The museum, for example, got $1,144.

The distribution of funds is also skewed to South and Central Whidbey. The three chambers of commerce on South Whidbey — Langley, Freeland and Clinton — received a total of $35,816.

Eight organization on Central Whidbey, including the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce, received a total of $32,296.

The Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce was the only organization on North Whidbey to receive money from this fund. The Camano Island Chamber of Commerce received $18,392.

Two groups promoting Whidbey Island-wide events also received funds. The Whidbey Walking Festival was earmarked for $968 while the Whidbey Island Farm Tour got $1,232.

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